Conventional wisdom has it that people who spend a lot of time lazing around are just physically inactive. Studies have supported this line of thinking, and usually the main culprit is said to be the idiot box or its first cousin, the computer.
But is that correct?
Yes it is, but it’s only half the truth. A recent study in Australia, first published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on 2 May, concluded that “sedentary leisure is mainly independent of physical activity and does not preclude meeting physical activity recommendations”. Simply put, you can be active and lazy at the same time. Nicola Burton from the School of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland, Australia, and her colleagues studied the association between time spent in sedentary leisure and physical activity among 9,121 middle-aged (40-65 years) men and women based on an email survey. Overall, men and women reported spending approximately 4 hours on a usual weekday and 5 hours on a usual weekend day in sedentary leisure. Watching television tended to account for at least half of this time, with approximately 2.3 hours/weekday for men and women and 2.7 hours/weekend day for women and 3 hours/weekend day for men. But, surprisingly, only approximately 13% of men and women (aged 40–64 years) were physically inactive, and 52% of men and 64% of women were categorized as meeting or exceeding physical activity recommendations.
To me this study highlighted two things. First, middle age was taken as 40-65 years, whereas we Indians talk about age beyond 30 as if it’s an inevitable downhill struggle. Perception is an important part of the outcome, and if we think it’s a lost cause, it is.
Move it: Sedentary people are not necessarily inactive.
Second, this study’s results have challenged the conventional wisdom that sedentary people who spend a lot of time lazing around are inactive people.
Can we learn any lessons from this?
I’m simply suggesting that it might be all right to watch the much-loved soap operas, or that cricket match, as long as you then decide to be active afterwards. If it works for the Aussies, now the challengers in cricket world and one of the fittest countries in the world, it ought to work for the champion country too. It only takes 30 minutes of your time every day, in which your workout could have the following components: cardiovasular, strengthening and stretching.
We are capable of being more physically active, whether or not we lead sedentary lifestyles—we just often simply think we’re not.
As if this weren’t bad enough, many of my well-intentioned doctor colleagues advise active patients complaining of knee or back pain to sometimes completely stop or drastically reduce running, cycling or whatever physical activity they are involved in, lest their joints and muscles wear out. This advice makes you feel older and pushes you into becoming more inactive.
I fail to understand this approach.
Also Read Rajat Chauhan’s earlier articles
At workplaces, most of us have sedentary jobs. And managers and CEOs complain their workforce is not fit. But even though the prerogative for fitness lies with employees, companies should go out of their way to promote fitness among staff. Larger companies need to take the lead in changing this culture. Fitter employees are more functional and productive, and that’s in the interest of any organization. One step towards changing this culture may be the introduction of fitness assessment as part of quarterly or annual appraisals. Employees, other than being told to meet various work-related targets, should be guided on how to meet their fitness targets as well.
I remember the good old cartoon where “couch potatoes” were made fun of, in which the illustration showed that the only exercise they got was while using the remote control. There is good news for all those “kings of the remotes”. Wii and PlayStation 3 Move have come out with motion games which actually help you burn some significant amount of calories while having fun. Xbox Kinect lets you play similar games, but you don’t even need the remote for that.
I’m not trying to give you an excuse to be more sedentary. Whether we like it or not, most of us spend a considerable amount of time sitting, whether during work or leisure. So, rather than using it as an excuse, make it a reason to start moving more.
Rajat Chauhan is a practitioner of sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and CEO of Back 2 Fitness. He is also an ultra marathon runner.
Write to Rajat at firstname.lastname@example.org