Beating the Computer Blues

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Ever wonder how your job is affecting your weight?

As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. And try as I might to make tapping my keyboard an aerobic activity, the hours spent in front of a glowing monitor are inescapably sedentary.

I’ve been thinking back to my younger days when I was a waitress. I spent many years shlepping nachos and beer to hungry patrons in busy bars and restaurants and I can’t even imagine how many calories I must have burned off hustling back and forth with booze-laden trays. Back then, I hardly needed to hit the gym — I was probably clocking the equivalent of a 5K power-walk with weights nightly.

I’m not saying that I should be dusting off my resume and heading out to the local pub to score a summer gig working the patio, but I suspect that, as a society, the move toward computer-based work has got to be messing with our ability to stay fit. And when you add in TV-watching (or video games or net surfing or Facebook updating), is it any wonder it’s so darn hard to get moving?

I recently had a chance to speak with Nadeen Boman, of “Bulging Brides” and “The Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp” fame, and she brought up the fact we’re all — increasingly — in need of more exercise because our lifestyle is so much more lazy:

“I think exercise was more part of our lifestyle back in the day. We wouldn’t email people, we’d walk over to see them. Now we’re all sitting in front of the computer all day. These are things we can start doing — get up and go see your neighbor instead of calling them on the phone or texting them.”

She certainly has a point. I recently came across an interesting study in Science Daily related to this very issue. The researchers, based at Queen’s University in Kingston, found “incidental physical activities” like walking to the photocopier and fidgeting at your desk can help contribute to your cardiovascular fitness level. In fact, a cumulative 30-minute increase in moderate physical activity throughout the day was found to offer significant benefits for long-term health. (Participants in the study engaged only in incidental physical activity and wore an accelerometer — a device that measured the intensity and duration of movement — for a week. They also took part in a test to measure their cardiovascular fitness level.)

“It’s encouraging to know that if we just increase our incidental activity slightly–a little bit more work around the house, or walking down the hall to speak with a co-worker as opposed to sending an email–we can really benefit our health in the long-term,” said lead researcher Ashlee McGuire. “Best of all, these activities don’t take up a lot of time, they’re not difficult to do, and you don’t have to go to a gym.”

Obviously this kind of activity is not going to shape you up radically, but what it says to me is our bodies are craving less sitting and more moving. We all have probably heard about the dangers of sitting too long and deep-vein thrombosis (probably through that story about the guy who doesn’t get up once during an entire 18-hour flight and then promptly dies).

But there was a study a couple of years ago that found the more a person sits, the more likely they are to die. In fact, individuals who sat the most were roughly 50 per cent more likely to die during the follow-up period than individuals who sat the least, even after controlling for age, smoking and physical activity levels.

And it’s not just us grown-ups who are glued to computers or TV screens. In a 2010 study, Spanish researchers found one third of the European teenagers they followed spent more than two hours a day in front of a screen. But on weekends, that percentage doubled to 60 per cent. And while boys tended to watch video games, teenage girls were more likely to be online, surfing the net. With kids spending more and more of their leisure time in sedentary pursuits, it makes you wonder what’s going to happen as marketers continue to unveil more seductive technologies (3-D TV, anyone?).

It’s clear sitting in front of a monitor for hours at a time isn’t a healthy way to be spending my days. But it’s tough — both my husband and I have jobs that require computer work and we both like to watch movies and television as well. It’s something I have to be conscious of daily.

But I have a plan: When my days are too busy to make time for a gym visit, I’m going to make it a rule that I at least have to stroll my kids to the park or take a brisk walk or simply just get the hell away from the glowing screen for a little while.

I’m quite sure my body (and especially my heart) will thank me for it.

Author by Shelley White

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