I’m assuming you’ve been spending a lot more time indoors lately. Sure, what else is there to do?
The restaurants are mostly closed, with the exception of those that have set up special cordoned-off seating areas on the street where you run the risk of becoming a bulldog ornament on a semi that has taken the corner a little too quickly.
Bars and nightclubs are also banned, and your friends, Donny and Squee, have naturally distanced themselves socially because it gives them an excuse to spend 20 hours a day in front of a game console instead of the normal 12.
If you are lucky you can still manage to work out at home or even at the gym. The latter, if you̵
Even so, you probably sit a lot. With all the time we spent on our bums, I was amazed at the possible impact of all that inactivity.
Would it affect heart health in the long term? How about our asses Would they flatten out like a ham-filled calzone? Or could all those long, immobile hours spent in front of this or that screen affect our athletic ability or our subsequent performance in the gym?
Since there is pretty much nothing else to do, I’ve dealt with all of that, starting with long periods of sitting and athletic performance. Coincidentally, a new study just came out that dealt with this very subject.
They even rolled her to the bathroom
You probably don’t need or want to know too many details about this study, so I’m just giving you the relevant stuff. 30 participants were divided into three “conditions”:
- A group that sat for 5 hours without a break.
- A group that sat for 5 hours but got up every hour to run for 5 minutes.
- A group that sat for 5 hours but received passive blood flow restriction (BFR) and transcutaneous electrical muscle stimulation (TEMS) for 5 minutes every hour.
All test subjects were nonsmokers who used to do weight training and aerobic exercise, and when I say they were sitting I mean they were sitting. In fact, if they had to go to the bathroom during the 5 hour sitting time they were turned over in movable chairs like geriatric patients. Invite someone in your family to do this for you. Ungrateful bastards.
In any case, after sitting, test persons from both the walking group and the BFR plus TEMS group had to perform the same incremental stress test with a bicycle ergometer.
They also had to do three vertical jumps to see if sitting was affecting explosive leg strength. The subjects performed the jumps before sitting, immediately after sitting and after completing the stress test on the ergometer.
The study’s “primary novel outcome” was that prolonged sitting did not affect post-sitting performance while cycling or jumping vertically. “The inclusion of intermittent physical activity as a method of interrupting prolonged sitting did not appear to have any additional performance benefits,” the authors concluded.
In normal times, these results can be especially useful for competitive athletes who have to sit on a plane or bus for long periods of time on their trip to a competition site, but the times are not normal. Almost all of us spend more time with our keystones, so this study may also bring us some comfort by letting us know that sitting around for a few hours before exercising as we feared it might not be as bad as it is.
However, we may overlook a critical difference between the conditions set out in this study and our present circumstances.
So what’s the problem?
The study results relate to acute sitting conditions, not chronic ones. Sitting around 5 hours on any given day is one thing. Sitting around five (or more) hours a day, day in and day out, is something completely different.
While there are no studies that have looked at this specific condition, we can at least make some assumptions based on studies of inactivity in general. Long periods of inactivity almost always lead to reduced insulin resistance.
Sitting for long periods also leads to less endothelial elasticity, which just means your blood vessels resemble the dried, cracked, faded garden hoses you sometimes see lying outside abandoned houses.
This is the serious stuff. Less serious effects are the possible development of “gluteal amnesia,” in which your gluteal muscles forget how to fire. The long-term effect is a flat ass with a sad hangdog droop when forced to face the world without supportive underwear.
What is the solution?
Some serious testing would be needed to see if your blood vessels are becoming inelastic or if you are gradually becoming more insulin resistant (aside from whether or not your waist is expanding).
Testing the glute functionality is a little easier. Dr. John Rusin, T Nation contributor, says you should be able to stand on both legs with your eyes closed for 60 seconds. If you can’t and instead stumble and bang your head on a coffee table, your glutes are deep in amnesia.
In any case, you should try to take a break from sitting every hour. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Nutrition reported a 39% improvement in glucose levels and a 26% decrease in insulin when subjects did 18 short treadmills (1 minute, 40 seconds) throughout the day.
Surprisingly, the intermittent exercisers in this experiment had significantly better results than those who exercised in individual 30-minute sessions every day.
Adding 18 exercise or exercise breaks during the day is probably too much to ask or remember, but keep the lesson in mind in general. Move if you can. A simple solution is to have your smartphone notify you every 60 minutes, after which you get up and do 10 to 20 body weight squats.
This should maintain glucose sensitivity, endothelial flexibility, athletic performance, and even gluten functionality.
Related: Sitting a lot? Do these 4 exercises
Related: Fight Dead Butt Syndrome
- Meredith Piddle et al. “Interrupting Extended Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glycemia in Healthy Adults of Normal Weight: A Randomized Crossover Study,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 26, 2013.
- B. Thurston et al. “Single exposure to prolonged sitting prior to exercise does not affect athletic performance,” International Journal of Sports Science, 2020, 10 (1): 7-14.