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Get up and move.
Get up and move.

Dump that couch for a healthy life

Sticking to time-bound gym activity is not enough to stay healthy and fit. It's essential to stay active throughout the day

Today’s urban lifestyle promotes sedentary behaviour. Most activities such as watching television or working on the computer do not increase energy expenditure at all. These, in fact, promote an increased risk of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) like heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. It is widely believed that by 2020 in India, 70-80% deaths will be attributable to NCDs.

A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, titled The Independent Associations of Sedentary Behaviour And Physical Activity on Cardiorespiratory Fitness, has concluded that contrary to popular belief, moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) levels alone may not overcome the deleterious influence of high sedentary time in maximizing cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). Essentially it means that an hour-long intense gym session is not enough to stay healthy and fit if for the next 12 hours you are not going to move at all. Hence overall lifestyle changes which are applicable throughout the day are important, not just an hour or two spent in the gym.

The lead author, Rute Santos from Research Centre in Physical Activity, Health and Leisure, University of Porto, Portugal, also concluded that only being active just in your adult life wasn’t enough to have a good level of CRF. The study recommends that for CRF it is important during childhood and adolescence to discourage sedentary behaviour while promoting physical activity.

Sitting in front of the television and computer for long hours and using electronic gadgets like mobile phones, tablets, etc., are accompanied by a gamut of bad lifestyle choices. To start with, your posture will become pathetic. Also, most television viewing is accompanied with increased consumption of fizzy drinks and fast food which harms your health. Another study, Physical Activity And Television Watching In Relation To Semen Quality In Young Men, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at how TV viewing can affect men. The lead author, Audrey Jane Gaskins, department of nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, US, concluded that higher amount of MVPA and less television watching were significantly associated with higher total sperm count and sperm concentration. So watching television for over 14 hours a week not only amounts to lower physical activity but lower sperm count too. Now, do you think watching TV for long hours at a stretch is okay?

Sedentary friends and colleagues will come up with all kinds of reasons backed by some “scientific research" to encourage the physically active to come down to their levels. One of the classic ones is that “endurance sports or high-intensity exercises reduces sperm count". That’s enough to discourage any “guy" to move, forget about running. After all, it’s “manhood" at stake here.

The take-home message is increased physical activity needs to become part of life, something that you do throughout the day, whether at work or home, not in short spurts or have specific time allocated to it. Start with not sitting in one posture for more than half an hour. It helps to not having your tea or coffee served on your table. Get up and fetch it for yourself. At any given opportunity, walk. Park further away from your office so that you are forced to walk that little bit extra, and make it a brisk walk. Some offices now have standing-desks or work stations, that’s definitely going in the right direction. A recent study done by John Buckley, from University of Chester, UK, found that office workers standing up for three hours extra a day would burn 3.6kg fat each year.

By no means am I saying that your time-bound gym activity or running is a bad thing. All I am saying is it could be inadequate if you stick to exercising for a stipulated time period only, daily. For a healthy life, be active throughout the day.

Rajat Chauhan is an ultra marathon runner and a doctor specializing in sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and founder of Back 2 Fitness. He is also associate editor, British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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