I love watching the Olympics. I love the otherworldly athleticism, the genetic-freak-show nature of the athletes, and, even, the inevitable soap operas that haunt many of the high-profile athletes. (Is Lo Lo Jones a worthy Olympian or an over-hyped poser? Tune in for the 100m hurdle finals and you can be the judge!) I don’t care that the Olympics has become a crass and commercialized product. It is great TV.
But each time I watch, I am struck by the HD-worthy contrast between the profoundly active Olympians and the coach potato-ness of my viewing experience. The irony is hard to ignore.
So this year I decided to do something different. I watched parts of the games standing up. Of course, there were moments when I couldn’t help myself. (Go Bolt!) But usually I had to force myself to put down the remote and rise off the well-worn leather. I even tried to get my kids to do mini-circuits during the commercials. (That strategy was – surprise, surprise – only moderately successful.)
Why did I decide to make this change? Just a few weeks ago a new series of studies was published highlighting the degree to which inactivity has become a major health problem. One report suggested that inactivity kills 5.3 people million a year. It was also noted that it is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide, and results show that about 6 percent of the burden of disease is caused by heart disease.
Of course, we have long known that physical activity is good for you. But to see the impact of our sedentary lifestyle on global death rates is uniquely eye-opening.
These are staggering numbers.
Adding to this picture of a species of sloths who are sitting themselves to death is the recent work on how important it is to keep moving all day long. A healthy and active lifestyle must include more than a weekly visit to the gym – though that is a good start. A growing body of literature has revealed that we should strive to constantly be active. In particular, we need to avoid long periods of immobility, especially sitting.
In total, the available evidence tells us that we should both work out (i.e., get in a bit of intense resistance training and aerobic exercise) and to keep moving throughout the day. Strategies to satisfy this latter requirement: Stand while on the phone, use a standing desk, commute to work by bike or on foot, and make TV watching more active… hence my vertical viewing.
The Olympics are drawing to a close. Post-Olympics my TV watching will decrease substantially (but only two more years until the start of the winter Olympics in Russia!). Still, I am going to try to maintain my standing-as-the-norm approach to all my daily activities. True, there are a few activities that are best done in a horizontal position. But other than sleep, at least a few moments on your feet can usually be worked in to the routine.
Get more tips from Tim Caulfield, or learn more about his book, The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness.