Friday, May 27, 2011

Today's Workers are More Sedentary and Obese than Ever

Quick: how would you describe your activity level? Usually, the term 'sedentary' reflects individuals who sit most of the day at work, move around very little and don't generally engage in planned exercise. The literal definition of the term might give you a good chuckle, but it's scary how accurate it really is. The term literally means "characterized by or requiring a seated position". In zoology, it means "pertaining to animals that move about little or are permanently attached to something, such as a barnacle". Your butt glued to a chair, a barnacle glued to a rock, same thing, right? So unless you're lucky enough to have a job that actually requires moving around where you're on your feet (i.e. not sitting on your butt all day), chances are, you're burning significantly fewer calories each day than workers did 50 years ago.

According to a new study by some of the top national physical activity experts in the U.S., men burn an average 142 fewer calories a day at work while women burn about 124 fewer calories than they did in the 60s. This is, as you may have guessed, due to the increasing numbers of office jobs and occupations requiring the use of computers. Jobs that would fall in the category of 'moderate activity' such as farming or manufacturing have "all but disappeared", said the study's lead author.

By analyzing data on occupations from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from the 1960s to 2008 and assigning physical activity equivalents to them, the researchers were able to estimate how many calories were burned each day by workers. They found that this data correlated well with the rise in obesity, which they believe is part of the reason for the obesity epidemic. It makes sense - even if it can't explain the whole phenomenon, it follows that less activity at work combined with mental exhaustion, fatigue, lack of sleep, a poor diet and lots of coffee would make a person less likely to hit the gym and 'purposely' go burn calories after a long day!

So what can we do about this? Really, the answers seem simple but they're definitely easier said than done. You've heard it all before - get more sleep, drink less coffee (1-2 cups/day is fine), drink plenty of water throughout the day and follow a nutritious diet with the appropriate amount of calories for you. That alone should get you in better shape than by doing your same old routine. Once you're at that point or you're feeling less tired over all, try adding in 30 minutes of moderate activity throughout the day. It can be broken up an done any time. A ten minute walk at lunch, walking the dog when you get home, or getting up to get that stapler instead of wheeling yourself over, glued to your chair like a barnacle catching a wave.

Remember, you can't expect miracles and progress doesn't happen over night. It starts with a crawl, then baby steps, then before you know it you'll be so quick that nobody can catch you!