The Pitt Prescription: Putting an end to sedentary behavior

The Pitt Prescription is a bi-weekly blog where student pharmacist and senior staff writer Elizabeth Donnelly provides tips on how to stay healthy in college.

In recent weeks, I’ve been significantly less active than I normally am due to the stay-at-home order put in place by Gov. Tom Wolf. My apartment building’s gym is closed indefinitely and I’m not going out as much as I used to, now that all my classes are online.

Working from home can lead to a pretty static lifestyle and many issues can arise with a lack of physical activity. Something I’ve noticed recently is that I have less motivation to complete my work on time and feel tired, even though I am not doing much. 

What is a sedentary lifestyle?

In recent years, adults have been becoming increasingly less active in their daily lives, so much so that the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group created an organization called the Sedentary Behaviour Research Network. This network is the world’s largest online database dedicated to sedentary behavior research. 

Sedentary behavior is defined as “any waking behavior characterized by an energy expenditure ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs), while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture.” This generally means that anything done while sitting or lying down is considered sedentary, including watching TV, playing video games and driving.

A common misconception is that exercising regularly can make up for being sedentary.

While getting the doctor-recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week is encouraged, it does not make up for the time spent in sedentary positions. The only definite way to avoid the negative consequences associated with inactivity is to minimize the amount of time you sit, recline or lay down. Otherwise, you may fall victim to a whole slew of health issues. 

What are the risks of being overly sedentary?

Getting a healthy amount of rest and relaxation is important, but too little physical activity has its drawbacks. One of the most obvious effects is gaining weight. Consistent inactivity causes your body to burn fewer calories and oftentimes may affect your metabolism by making it harder for your body to process sugar or fat. Additionally, a lack of activity can lead to decreased muscle mass and bone strength as well as a weakened immune system. 

Over time, someone who is constantly inactive is at a higher risk for chronic illnesses like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression or anxiety, just to name a few. In times where we are challenged and do not have access to the same resources we did previously, like gyms, it is especially important to come up with innovative ways to get in your daily steps. 

How to combat a sedentary lifestyle

As previously mentioned, the best way to avoid the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle is to make sure you spend as little time sitting, reclining or laying down as possible. It is estimated that less than 20% of Americans have a job that involves adequate movement. Ever since starting online classes and having meetings via Zoom, I’m almost constantly sitting in a chair, and I know many other students are in the same boat.

It is recommended that you try getting up and moving around at least once per hour on a typical workday. Try to stand up as much as you can — if you can stand while on the computer, it’s encouraged to do so to decrease the length of time you sit each day. Additionally, if you live in a building with stairs, it’s advised to use them rather than the elevator.

On days when you’re not working and have a bit more free time in your schedule, you can try going out for a walk — while keeping good social distance between yourself and others. Stand as much as you can and try to take breaks during long bouts of sitting or reclining. For example, if you still watch television shows that have advertisements, you could stand during each commercial break.

Not only are breaks in stationary behaviors encouraged, but making sure to get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is a key factor in maintaining health. Although 150 minutes can seem daunting if you don’t already have a regular workout schedule, if you split it up into smaller sessions, it is manageable. If you can find the time each day to add three breaks in your schedule for 10 minute workouts, you would hit the weekly goal in only five days. 

Your workouts don’t have to be anything fancy — you don’t need to purchase weights or machines to have an effective session. My go-to workout routine is finding a 30-minute dance class on YouTube and following along with the instructors. You can also do yoga, push-ups and sit-ups or even use household objects as weights for weight lifting. As long as you get up and move, you will be helping your body and your health.

Something fun that I like to do is host virtual exercise classes with friends. You are able to share your screen through Zoom and everyone can follow along with a video at the same time. Minimizing your daily amount of sedentary activity can be pretty tricky, especially at this time, but there are many options available to help inspire you to get up and move. I hope you are all staying happy and healthy during these trying times!