Every few months there’s a new fitness or health topic that ripples through the tubes of the internet.
Years ago it was the Paleo Diet (which is legit).
Then we all heard about Vitamin D and it’s apparent long list of benefits (which is probably legit – needs more study).
Now it seems that one of the biggest health concerns is sitting. Inactivity. Sedentary behavior.
At first glance, I dismissed the concern. Any runner who’s running 4 or more times a week doesn’t need to worry about some extra sitting. If you run a lot (or even just a few times a week), you’re getting enough exercise and don’t need to worry about all that time sitting at your laptop.
The Perils of Sitting
It turns out, it’s not that simple. Long periods of sedentary behavior are bad for you – regardless of whether or not you exercise. So if I run for 90 minutes in the morning and then sit on my ass the rest of the day, I’m still being unhealthy.
Think of it this way: sitting is like smoking. If you smoke but eat a super healthy diet or run frequently, you’re still a smoker. No amount of running can undo that. I don’t think sitting is as bad as smoking, but nobody should run and then lie on the couch watching House all day.
A few months ago this awesome infographic was floating around. It got me scared so I started researching the studies that were being published about excessive sitting. The results are startling. Sitting…
- reduces the HDL or “good” cholesterol in your body
- increases your risk of dying…period.
- makes it more likely you’ll become diabetic
- increases your risk of heart disease
- increases your risk of some cancers
- puts you at a greater risk for obesity
If you’re not thinking “holy shit” then I have no idea how to scare you.
Despite the fact that I run a lot and my wife calls me a core whore, I sit down for a majority of the day. I’m sitting down right now as I’m typing this.
So after reading all that, I started using a standing desk for part of the day and I felt more energized – mentally as well as physically. After my runs I didn’t get overly stiff by sitting down for long periods of time afterward (but of course, not after doing a proper warm-down routine).
As September rolled around, I started running more in preparation for the Philly Marathon next month (holy shit is it only a month away?!). My September volume topped out at 342 miles, my highest for the year, and I was tired a lot.
The time I spent at my standing desk decreased rapidly as soon as I was running 80+ miles a week. My legs just couldn’t handle it! I don’t think I’m alone – anybody working their ass off doesn’t want to spend hours standing after a long run or workout. So I sat down and loved every minute of it.
Run, Walk, Sit, Stand, Kneel?!
So what’s a tired runner to do? If sitting is bad for you, but running a lot makes you tired and want to sit down, do you suck it up and stand? I don’t think so. Staying on your feet for hours after a hard workout can put extra stress on your muscles and hamper the recovery process.
The key is to find a compromise between your training and what’s healthy for you in the long-term. And in doing so, the old adage of everything in moderation works great here. Standing all day doesn’t work. Neither does sitting.
In a perfect world, you’d use a combination of strategies to both enhance recovery, relax, and optimize your health throughout the day:
- Use a standing desk for part of the day
- Sit in a normal office chair
- Sit on an exercise ball
- Take frequent walk breaks
- If you can, invest in one of those weird kneeling chairs
- Use your lunch hour actively instead of just surfing the web at your desk or sitting at a restaurant
For more strategies on how to limit sedentary behavior, read my post on beating office tightness. When you’re constantly going from standing to sitting to walking to kneeling, your body won’t have a chance to get stiff. You’ll be using different muscles and constantly changing how your body is aligned. You won’t even have time for bad posture!
Muscles have memory, so the longer you spend in a slouched position at your desk with your legs crossed the worse it is for you. After awhile of sitting down, your muscles remember the position that you put them in. Your hip flexors get tighter. Your glute muscles stretch out and get weak. It’s bad news – so avoid prolonged sitting (or standing) as much as you can.
There’s one runner that comes to mind who seems to be doing a lot right in this area: Steve Speirs. I interviewed him earlier this year and follow him on Twitter. I’m amazed at how he is constantly going for walks and short double runs. Not only do I think this is good from a training perspective, but it’s the healthiest way to live your life from an activity perspective.
He’s moving around a lot – even if he spends a good amount of time sitting, it’s broken up into manageable chunks. I’ve never met Steve outside of Twitter, email, or dailymile but I get the distinct feeling he’s doesn’t sit still for long…
As runners, we need to be proud that what we like to do keeps us healthy. Whether you run for fitness, competition, general health, or just because you love the wind in your hair, your hobby has serious health benefits that are going to energize you and prolong your life.
But that doesn’t mean you get a free pass for the other 23 or so hours in the day. Be mindful of how you’re spending your day. Get up and walk around. Do things the hard way like take the stairs or park farther away from the front door in your parking lot. Go talk to your colleague instead of emailing her. Print to the other side of the office. Ride your bike to work.
You might just live a few more years.