Recently I had the rare pleasure of a leafy-green weekend on the South Fork of Long Island. As my city-toughened hide softened, I felt the brush of the wind against my skin. The body of air felt constantly fresh and alive. In the ocean, I reveled in the push-pull-drag of the surf. The churn of the waves challenged and invigorated my body and spirit.
This was not a land of stale air and stagnant water. There was a great vitality in this dance of nature.
That same weekend I read an article in the New York Times Magazine, "The Men Who Stare at Screens." It concerns scientific studies of people who regularly exercise and sit for many hours throughout their day. We all know that the prevalence of computers and electronic devices, as well as increased tv watching and driving have all contributed to our progressively sedentary lives. Even low-effort activities like cooking–not to mention getting up to the change the television channel–have diminished.
Many people will put in an hour at the gym once a day or a few times a week to counterbalance this sedentary lifestyle. But here is both an alarming and fascinating finding: according to a study cited in the article “ . . . workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting.” Risk of heart disease was still very high. It seems that despite a regular exercise routine, muscular cellular structure will change because of long periods of sitting and consequently raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.
This does not mean your workouts are fruitless! Keep them going and also get up and move frequently throughout your day. As New Yorkers, we tend to be more active than our fellow car-centered citizens. However, I certainly have had city clients who work long hours sitting at their desks, only to collapse in exhaustion at home on the couch.
Get up from your desk and take a walk to refill your water bottle or to talk to an office mate. Take the stairs, if just for one flight. Get up and stretch your arms to the ceiling and march your legs up and down. Dare to get off the subway just before your usual stop and walk the rest of the way home. Take on that small cleaning project you’ve been meaning to tackle.
Just as the atmosphere is invigorated by the charge of the wind and the pulse of the ocean, your body will both be healthier and enlivened by the frequent firing of your muscles. Enjoy your daily dance!
This was originally posted August 1st, 2010.