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Don't sit on this

Mornings begin with a blast of energy as you pump iron for over an hour at the gym. That metallic whiff of dumbbells must feel great, because it means you are burning the previous night’s binge-fest. Your muscles stretch dutifully; your face isflushed.

Think you’ve compensated for the day’s work, which involves slouching at the computer? Well, you haven’t — all that sitting might kill you sooner, researchers at the University of Leicester believe. Worse, city doctors confirm it. Yes, it would help if you’re standing while reading this.

Last fortnight, the Diabetes Group at University of Leicester in the UK published a research in the journal, Diabetologia, which reported findings of the analysis of 18 studies conducted on almost 8,00,000 people. According to the study, those who spend a lot of time sitting — be it at work, watching TV, or using a computer — are at great risk of diabetes, heart disease and premature death, and exercise isn’t likely to come to your rescue.
Of course, you mustn’t let every research paper publish make you a hypochondriac — the age, number, demographics, nationality and research conditions are of equal importance, say city doctors.

This research, however, does have a point, they add. “People must read between the lines,” says Dr Paresh Pai, vascular and endovascular surgeon at Bombay Hospital. “It doesn’t mean that you give up exercise altogether because it doesn’t seem worth it — this research is merely trying to dispel the myth most of us have, that an hour in the gym will balance out an otherwise bad lifestyle. It is quite relevant because that’s exactly what a lot of people even here in India practice. So many of us spend more than eight, sometimes even 12 hours sitting. That definitely is going to do us no good.”

Ideally, adds Dr Pai, challenging your heart (under controlled conditions) to reach 85 per cent of its regular heart rate even for 10 minutes helps increase blood flow, opens up muscles and releases endorphins.

“Then, when you sit down for long hours, the body gets confused with the extremes. A sedentary lifestyle often goes hand-in-hand with unhealthy eating habits, which only adds to the trouble. I see a lot of people binging on unhealthy food and drinking in the evening, thinking the workout will take care of it — well, it does not,” says Dr Pai.

Last month, Noida-based HEAL Foundation, which works on health education among citizens, released a survey on the perception of diabetes among family members of diabetics in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. It emerged that 85.4 per cent of the people they interviewed had never gotten their blood sugar levels checked, in spite of diabetes running in their families.

Dr Preetaish Kaul, consultant at HEAL Foundation, says that only five per cent of the respondents worked out daily. “Daily workouts are a great habit, but they aren’t enough with the jobs we have. Even those who work out are at risk of truncal obesity — fat deposit around the stomach — which, in turn, causes Type 2 diabetes.”

Challenge yourself
Dr Shoaib Padaria, cardiologist at Jaslok Hospital says an isolated research must not alarm a population that was not involved in it. He, however, does confirm that sitting for long hours can have serious repercussions. “I meet a lot of people who, for instance, claim that they walk for four to five kilometres a day — but do so over two hours; now that’s leisurely.

That is futile because it simply doesn’t challenge your heart to bring enough benefit. Sitting for long hours is anyway known to stagnate the blood flow on your legs, causing varicose veins, deep vein and calf vein thrombosis, ankle edema and back pain.”

Diabetologist Dr Saumeel Mehtalia says he isn’t surprised by the study because even sitting continuously for four hours ups the incidence of heart attacks in the Indian population. “It starts so young — the number of children who have no outdoor activity, spend long hours sitting at home and end up with juvenile diabetes is startling.

You see so many adults diligently working out and heading for heavy, unhealthy breakfasts, and are then back to their couches. Type 1 diabetes is extremely common in those who exhibit this behaviour. Also, our genes put us at more risk of diabetes and heart diseases due to this lifestyle than our Caucasian counterparts of the same height and weight.”

Minimise damage
One can start with smaller things to cut down on the war waged by our sedentary lifestyles on our hearts and pancreas, says Dr Mehtalia. “I sit for long hours, too. So, to balance it, I park my car at the end of the parking lot and walk it up to the hospital. One can minimise the damage done while sitting for long hours in front of the TV by simply placing a treadmill near it — that means you could walk instead of munching chips while you watch TV. Many companies now build gyms in their offices — it would do one good to go there, too,” he says.

Long meetings, too, need not tie you down for hours, feels Dr Amit Kohli, a Juhu-based physiotherapist. “It should come as no surprise to us that workouts don’t cut out all risks that you otherwise subject your body to during the rest of the day. One shouldn’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch — climb two floors and get back or just take a walk.

I often recommend exercises that could be done every time you visit the washroom — stretching muscles, rotating the spine, squeezing a wet towel a couple of times when you’re in the shower and so on. We tend to blame stress for everything, but all stress is not necessarily bad for the body — it is all about what you do after that morning workout which matters most,” he says.  

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