Sitting is the new Extreme(ly Dangerous) Sport

This chair is out to get you!You’ll be sitting a lot on your trip. On the plane. In taxis, rental cars, buses. Waiting in airports, hotel lobbies, plazas. Is your body up to the challenge?

You think I’m kidding, right?

We’ve seen an increasing number of articles over the past year suggesting that too much sitting is dangerous and can cause health problems, even for those who get regular exercise. (Here are a few: stanford, nyt, nytwellhealthland, neuroblog).

Too much sitting at home can be near fatal to your trip or vacation as well. Often we don’t realize until it is too late that we ask more of our bodies while traveling than we do at home. Our daily routine may not include stairs or hours of strolling, yet a sights-and-adventure-packed holiday may require that, and more.

What we’re going to be hearing more about in the next few years is how lots of sitting can change the mechanics of our body. Long uninterrupted hours spent sitting can cause some muscles in hips, thighs, and back to tighten, others to lengthen and weaken inappropriately – contributing to faulty movement patterns and a downward spiral of pain, weakness, incorrect movement and posture, and diminishing function.

So what do we need to do about sitting as we get ready for our next fabulous trip or adventure?

1. Notice. Write down everything you do for one day: breakfast, project, lunch with friend, errands, Facebook/emails, TV/video, walking the dog, phone conversation with sister etc.  Our brains are great at noticing WHAT we’re doing, not whether we’re sitting or moving while we do it. At the end of the day translate everything you’ve done into either 1=sitting or 2=moving. This particular day would then look like: sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting, walking, sitting. That kind of wake-up call can light a fire under you!

2. Now we need to focus on 2 main areas: regular movement to increase stamina for your trip and inserting short bursts or breaks of movement throughout the day to minimize the negative metabolic effects of too much sitting and allow muscles to change position more often.Walking the Spanish Steps in Rome

a) Regular walking or movement – think about what you’re planning for your trip and work backwards. Planning to visit some major European capitols? You’ll likely spend hours sightseeing most days. When’s the last time you spent four consecutive hours standing and walking while at home? Planning on visiting Sacré Coeur in Paris or the Spanish Steps in Rome? Or kissing the Blarney Stone? Then stairs are definitely in your future. Start small and slow and listen to your body (and your doctor).

b) Short bursts or breaks for activity if you’re sitting many hours daily consuming TV, computer, other electronics, driving, or sitting at a desk or table. This is a new area of research aimed at discovering and preventing some of the negative metabolic changes that long-term sitting creates. In my opinion, these breaks are also critical to help us avoid chronic muscle imbalances and weakness. What to do? Set a timer or alarm and get up and move around. Break up long periods of driving with stops to walk- and find surprises along the way! On a recent Santa Fe to Denver drive, I found a Zen rock garden tucked away in a corner of a rest area! Find a couple of go-to exercises and stretches you can do in a minute or two, and then vary them throughout the day. Use something that happens frequently in your day (for example, checking email, talking on the phone, meals, or getting a glass of water) and attach a short activity to it.

Over 40 woman skipping3. Look for ways to re-discover the fun of moving. Start creating those brain connections between fun and movement that were so strong when you were a kid. Remember when you were young enough to want to run everywhere?  Begin to create and strengthen those brain connections again by noticing when it feels good to move – a welcoming spring sun warming your muscles as you walk, the delight of your dog as you keep pace with him, the extra range of motion you have after your muscles have warmed up, the fun of getting up and moving when you hear a song you love, or the mischievous delight of skipping in a public place.

4. While traveling: make a game of snatching a few minutes here, a few minutes there, to stretch and flex muscles. Set an alarm or ask a travel companion to walk with you every hour you’re stuck at the airport. Do a few squats or skips or a couple of table push-ups or calf raises while you wait. Most of us have developed a great tolerance for sitting, so interrupting sitting with frequent short bouts of moving may seem unnecessary or even irritating at first. Realize you’re re-setting your ‘thermostat’ for motion, and power on.

It’s seductive, it’s comfortable, it’s habit – and it’s killing our travel fun and our health. Recognize sitting as the extreme(ly dangerous) sport that it is, and pick one regular movement and one short burst or break for activity from the above right now to start before your next trip. Because you – and your trip – are worth it!

Click here if you want to find out more about the 4 Week Travel Tune-Up.

Interested in a free great over 40 travel teleseminar? Click here.