Rethink Leisure

Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

Lately, news headlines have been proclaiming that "Sitting is the New Smoking."  In the sense that they're both linked to a lot of health threats, then yes, sitting and smoking do have a lot in common.

Here's where they aren't alike:  Smoking is much less widespread.  A growing number of cities, states, and countries have enacted laws that ban smoking in all work and public places, including restaurants and bars.  The Centers for Disease control reports that the number of smokers in the US has fallen to a record low.

But sitting is far more acceptable.  In fact, we all do more of it than ever.  Most of us have jobs that require little or no physical exertion.  We might do a little standing, lifting, and walking around, but mostly we sit.

When we go home, we sit some more, watching hours and hours of TV, streaming services, or You Tube, and scrolling on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.

The thing that Americans do most often with their free time is not cooking or hiking or pursuing a hobby.  Americans sit and watch screens.  I have the same bad habit.

All this sitting contributes to poor health and fitness.  As we spend more time sitting, we're more likely to experience:

  • Obesity.  Research has found that adults who spend more time sitting have a higher body mass index and waist size.  Not only are we not using that time to move more and burn more calories, but we tend to eat when we're sitting.  And when we're idly watching TV, we're more likely to eat junk food than any healthier alternatives.
  • Disease.  Studies show that for each additional hour spent watching TV, we have a 26% higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease.  Researchers also found a link between hours spent sitting and several types of cancer.
  • Early death.  Other studies have found that people who sit for more hours every day have a higher risk of dying than those who spend fewer hours seated.  Even if those people who sat longer were physically active during other times of the day, they had a higher risk of dying.

Did you catch that last part?  Even if you exercise every day, sitting around too much is harmful to your health.  Spending time at the gym doesn't erase the effects of a mostly sedentary life.

Isn't it odd that we deem the term "sitting room" as quaint?  Today we have living rooms, right?  Or do we?  While we refer to the space in our homes where we spend most of our leisure time as the "living room," the truth is that it has become a sitting-down room.

The way I use my living room might be keeping me from looking and feeling my best.

We definitely don't want to be typical Americans in this area, do we?  How can we turn our living rooms, family rooms, dens, man caves, and she sheds from places where we sit to places where we relax healthfully?

5 Ways to Keep Your Living Room from Making You Sick

1.  Spend less time in the room.
Decide that one night a week will involve a family outing.  Visit a neighborhood park, go on a bike ride, go bowling or to the roller rink, go to the gym, or simply take a long evening walk.

2.  Control snacking.
Eating after dinner is especially bad if you want to control your weight.  It's much better to eat a healthy, filling meal than it is to snack later.  And many of us eat when we're bored, or because it's a habit to nosh on fatty chips, cookies, or candy when focused on a screen.  If you think you're hungry, drink some water or tea, since we sometimes mistake thirst for hunger.  If you need more, try one of these options:
  • an apple, an orange, or a handful of grapes
  • celery with a little nut butter
  • carrot sticks with some hummus
  • a serving of low-fat cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt with berries
  • one stick of string cheese
  • a hard boiled egg
  • a handful of raw or dry roasted nuts
  • air-popped popcorn

3.  Buy some old workout videos.
Vow that for every hour you're in front of a screen, you'll spend 15 minutes working out.  You don't even need the video if you walk around the block once every hour, and do jumping jacks, squat kicks, leg raises, push ups, or even some house cleaning or decluttering during every commercial break.

4.  Plan a "no electronics" night.
One night a week, leave the TV, computer, phones, and tablets off.  Use your living room to play charades, Simon Says (funny when adults play too!), Twister, or balloon volleyball.  Build a blanket fort.  Or expand your living space by playing tag in and around the house.  Let your body and brain take a break from electronic stimulation.

5.  Do more jobs without labor-saving devices.
Research shows that as we spend more time in front of screens, we spend less time actively doing household chores.  So get rid of the Roomba and push a vacuum cleaner.  Donate the bread machine and bring back kneading.  Hand wash your dishes and your car.  Sell your riding mower and buy a human-powered push mower.  Instead of a leaf blower, use a rake.  Instead of hiring the neighbor kid to shovel snow or pull weeds, do it yourself (and involve the whole family).

Make sure your leisure time is actually doing you good!


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