Research is showing that one of the main culprits for the US health and obesity epidemic estimated to cost more than $100 Billion annually is our CHAIRS. More than half of the 150 million American workers spend their days sitting at a desk. Analyzing the impact of our sedentary lives provides some alarming insights.
"It was hard to believe at first," said Marc Hamilton, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia and leader of a research team studying the impact of chairs on our health. He said the team didn't expect to find a strong signal when they began researching what happens to fat when we remain seated. But the effect, both in laboratory animals and humans, turned out to be huge.
The solution, Hamilton said, is to stand up and "putter" at a minimum, illustrating that our bodies were made to stay in motion not to remain sedentary.
Hamilton was not suggesting that anyone forgo exercising for puttering. But his research shows that exercise alone won't get the job done, not if you sit the rest of the day that is. We have to pay more attention to what's happening when we aren't in the gym, because the body's ability to dispose of fat virtually shuts down, he says, at least if we're sitting down. Treadmill desks offer a solution that allows employees to stay in motion throughout the day.
Hamilton recruited a few laboratory rats and pigs, as well as about a dozen human volunteers, including himself, to learn more about the physiological effect of sitting. The lab animals laid the foundation for the research in two different experiments. The animals were injected with a small amount of fat that contained a radioactive tracer so the researchers could determine what happened to the fat.
"What's the fate of that fat?" Hamilton asked during a telephone interview for the article cited herein. "Is it burned up by the muscle?" The radioactive tracer revealed that when the animals were sitting down, the fat did not remain in the blood vessels that pass through the muscles, where it could be burned. Instead, it was captured by the adipose tissue, a type of connective tissue where globules of fat are stored. That tissue is found around organs such as the kidneys, so it's not really where you want to see the fat end up. A treadmill desk would prevent this.
The researchers also took a close look at a fat-splitting enzyme, called lipase, that is critical to the body's ability to break down fat.After the animals remained seated for several hours, "the enzyme was suppressed down to 10 percent of normal," Hamilton said. "It's just virtually shut off."
The results from the animal studies were very convincing, he said, and human experiments were just as compelling. The researchers injected a small needle into the muscles of the human volunteers and extracted a small sample for biopsy. Once again, the enzyme was suppressed while the humans remained seated. That resulted in retention of fat, and it also resulted in lower HDL, the "good cholesterol," and an overall reduction in the metabolic rate. All of this could be prevented during work hours by implementing treadmill desks for those workers constrained to a desk all day.
You Need to Move Those Legs
The implications, Hamilton said, are clear. While much thought has been given to the good effects of regular exercise, scientists have not paid enough attention to what happens during the rest of the time when we may be fairly active but are probably sitting too much. Especially at ages when our metabolism seems to naturally decline. That could help explain the rising tide of obesity, because people tend to sit more these days than they did a half century ago. Other studies have shown that the average American consumes only 100 calories per day than during the 1960â's but also burns 700 calories less per day as well. That 800 calorie per day swing explains a lot in terms of America's obesity epidemic of today.
Some might argue that playing video games, or even working at the computer, involves movement of the upper body, especially the hands and arms, so that's not really inactive. But Hamilton points out that arms don't weigh very much, and the big muscles in the human body which are so critical to burning fat are located in our legs and back. These are the very muscles that are engaged the most when walking at a treadmill desk.
Standing is better than sitting. Fidgeting while standing better still. However, walking while working allows the body to do what it was designed to do over the eons of evolution. Our bodies were designed to walk 30-35 miles per day, yet the Americans do not average even 1/10 of that amount today. The message is clear. Get up and start walking and if your office tasks prevent that then start moving with a treadmill desk.