Since we were little, all of us have been taught to avoid the “couch potato” lifestyle. Many of us heeded that advice early on: we joined a club sport, began dance lessons, or took up water skiing at camp every summer. These commitments may have lasted us several years and still keep us active, but a new discovery has shown that these time-consuming activities might not be enough to keep ourselves healthy.
Recently, experts have claimed that achieving the recommended daily amount of physical activity cannot protect individuals from the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Specifically, sitting down has been pinpointed as the root of the issue. The Los Angeles Times interviewed Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, who coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Like smoking, the only way for sedentary college students to improve their health is by breaking poor habits and limiting the amount of time spent on their butts. Several health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, depression, dementia, and more produce a list of severe risks for the typical American adult who averages up to nine hours a day sitting down.
So what exactly happens to our bodies when we’re not on our feet? Lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that transports fats and breaks down lipoproteins, or fat-carrying molecules, begins to decrease the rate at which it breaks down fat reserves in fatty (adipose) tissue. The body’s metabolism also slows while blood glucose and blood pressure both increase, steadily damaging the inside of arteries. Researchers have confirmed these claims through evidence found in a study conducted by Transport for London in the 1950s. Evidence drawn from a sample of drivers and conductors showed that drivers, who spent more of their time sitting, were 1.5 times as likely to develop heart disease as conductors. Other research indicates that sitting shuts off electrical activity in the leg muscles and drops HDL, or “good” cholesterol, by 20 percent.
The solution? It’s difficult to prescribe. Unfortunately, college students are required to sit for most of the day. Stand up during class and someone is bound to look at you strangely. However, students spend so many hours on their own time sitting while working in the library or on their bed. Would an individual or group of people standing disrupt the other students in these spaces? Consider trying this on your next trip to the library or while on a study date at Starbucks. Or perhaps take a break from working every so often and go for a stroll around the building. Small amounts of regular activity, even just standing and moving around, throughout the day is enough to bring increased blood glucose and blood pressure levels back down. As well as the physical benefits, you may also notice an improvement in mood, alertness, and the drive to perform tasks.
As an already exhausted college student, you may not be too excited about the thought of implementing more activity into your day. In the long run, though, small steps in the direction of staying active will have you thanking your irritable, cranky self later.
By Allison Milch