By Carlos M. Cervantes, Ph.D., CAPE
Have you wondered how much time you spend sitting? Or, what (if any) may be the consequences of sitting for prolonged periods of time in front of the TV, computer, cell phone or video game? Well, you may be, like many people in the United States, unaware of the “sitting disease.”
Unlike many other illnesses, sitting disease is not spread by a mosquito bite or by someone sneezing. It is a condition we develop…a behavior…our choice. Sitting disease is defined as the detrimental health effects caused by excessive sitting throughout most days of the week. Some have said that sitting disease is a 21st century chronic disease (Hoeger & Hoeger, 2013).
We live in toxic environments in terms of not encouraging people to move. For example, we go to the shopping mall, and we take the escalator rather than the stairs; we walk into a building and use the elevator; we watch TV and use the remote; we use the drive-through rather than walking-in to a restaurant or use the car rather than walk or bike to the store. Our living arrangements (that is, housing communities) are set to discourage people from walking or moving. We have more dog parks in our neighborhoods than places for people to be active.
The fact is that we have a challenge ahead of us: to move, to find the time to simply stand up and move. It is not about starting a vigorous exercise program today (which is not a bad idea!) but simply taking one step at a time. Start by walking around the block, or walking your dog or getting a group of friends and walking around the HT campus…just move. The human body was designed to move, not to sit – some activity is better than no activity at all.
African Americans and Hispanic Americans are at greater risk for chronic disease related to obesity and physical inactivity (known as hypokinetic conditions) such as high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS, 2010) indicates that the prevalence of obesity for adults in Texas is 32.2%. Furthermore in Texas, African American adults have obesity prevalence of 41.1% while Hispanics have 40.3% compared to White Americans (28.2%).
What about physical activity? Not much good news. In Texas, the prevalence of adults reporting inadequate physical activity (that is not moving enough for health benefits) is 51.9%. For Hispanic adults in Texas, 57% have reported inadequate physical activity while 54.6% of African American adults in Texas are not physically active enough (Texas Department of State Health Services).
Why is any of this important? Obesity and physical inactivity are two of the big five risk factors for chronic disease. Most importantly, they are preventable. It would not be irrational to suggest that with the higher prevalence of obesity and physical inactivity in our communities (if we think in terms of life expectancy and medical care cost) we African Americans and Hispanics may end up living shorter lives and paying more for medical care. Thus, a simple lifestyle change such as moving more and sitting less (coupled with proper nutrition) can have a significant positive effect on our lives and pockets!
Often we hear preachers, pastors, reverends and priests talk about how long many people in the Bible lived – for example, Genesis 9:29 indicates that Noah lived for 950 years and Abraham lived for 175 years (Genesis 25:7). Although they both lived in different times, there were few things in common: no cars, no fast food restaurants and not much sitting but plenty of moving…walking in search of the “Promised Land”…moving to live! We may not live that long today but we can have longer, healthier and more productive lifestyles with a simple choice: stand up and move!
For more information on sitting disease and the national health promotion initiative “just stand”readers are encourage to visit www.juststand.org. For tips on how to get moving, please visit http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/
By Carlos M. Cervantes, Ph.D., CAPE, is Chair of the Huston-Tillotson University Department of Kinesiology.
I would like to thank Dr. Katherine Oldmixon, Ms. Becky Kangas and Reverend Donald Brewington for their thoughtful comments on an early version of this article.