Sitting less, moving more could be easier than you think

Last month the American Medical Association adopted a new policy on sitting in the workplace, paraphrased by the L.A. Times as “Get off your butts”.



“Prolonged sitting, particularly in work settings, can cause health problems and encouraging workplaces to offer employees alternatives to sitting all day will help to create a healthier workforce,” AMA board member Patrice Harris said in a statement that cited standing work stations and isometric balls as possible alternatives.

(I need reminded – I just swapped out my desk chair for my stability ball.)

A study by Jeanne Johnston, clinical associate professor at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, seems to suggest that just helping people like me become more aware of how much we sit can help us sit less, move more and lose weight.

“We are beginning to recognize that sitting without any movement may even be worse than not getting enough physical activity,” Johnston told an NPR Shots blogger last month. She says many people don’t realize how much time they spend sitting each day.

She and colleague Saurabh Thosar presented a study last spring at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting that discussed how a simple program that uses a pedometer to monitor movement resulted in decreased sitting time, more movement and weight loss for study participants.

Pedometers aren’t new, but Johnston and Thosar’s study was the first to use them to monitor and reduce sitting time and the first to examine the amount of physical activity versus structured exercise people experience throughout the day.

Study participants used an Omron HJ-720 and also received twice weekly emails containing nutritional and exercise tips. They were encouraged to download their data onto a computer, where they could look at a graph of their steps as a function of time. They also were encouraged to be active during the hours for which they had zero steps, such as when they watched TV or worked at a desk.

After the 12-week program, participants saw a significant decrease in sitting time and a significant increase in physical activity. The mean weight loss was almost 2.5 pounds. Johnston chose the Omron for several reasons, one being that it had been tested for research purposes for accuracy. She likes it because it doesn’t need to be worn on the hip; it can be carried in a backpack or pocket. It also captures sitting time and more than just steps, such as when someone walks 3.5 mph or faster for at least 10 minutes. Other technology out there, such as Nike Fuel Band, and FitBit, do this and more, and have a bigger price tag than Omron, which costs less than $40.

I asked Johnston how important the informational aspect of her 12-week program was to its success. She said it just depends on individual motivation. She said social support also is important.

“I think the biggest thing is being able to monitor yourself and setting goals,” she said.

I don’t think I want to know how much time I spend on my duff, which tells me I really need to find out.