04/16/2014 02:36 EDT | Updated 06/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Sit Less, Live Longer

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"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things." ~ Leonardo da Vinci

One area of medicine that has always excited me is health promotion and illness prevention. I am a believer in "an ounce of prevention" when it comes to health, accidents, relationships, etc. This past week I came upon an article in the National Post by Dr. James Aw, a physician in Toronto. He highlights the importance of behavioural interventions in medicine given that what we do and what we eat are more powerful predictors of health than either genetics or our environment. We all know what we should do, but translating that into actionable steps and goals is another thing altogether.

The generation of convenience:

It is often hard to believe how different life is today for our kids than it was for us. Even though I am 41, I still have many stories that begin with, "When I was your age...". But the truth is when I was young, we walked or biked everywhere, we didn't have electronic devices beyond a Walkman, and you had to get out of your vehicle to get a coffee or lunch. Don't get me wrong, I sit in the Starbucks drive-through just like the next person, but it is not hard to see why sitting disease is becoming a pandemic.

The impact of sitting disease:

Last week I also read an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that discussed the importance of guidelines on reducing sitting time. Guidelines exist regarding physical activity, but not enough conversation exists about the dangers of sitting too much when not engaging in physical activity. Evidence is mounting that prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular death.

The role of lifestyle medicine:

Lifestyle medicine is really the application of modifiable lifestyle behaviours into medical practice. The Institute of Lifestyle Medicine is a Harvard Medical School affiliate in Boston and really is at the forefront of providing both education and tools about lifestyle interventions into healthcare. I have taken most of their online courses including the following:

Lifestyle Medicine for Stress Management

Lifestyle Medicine for Weight Management

Lifestyle Medicine: Prescribing Exercise

Lifestyle Medicine: Osteoporosis

The institute also offers innovative conferences such as the upcoming Practicing Lifestyle Medicine: Tools for Healthy Change and Active Lives: Transforming Ourselves and Our Patients. These programs not only benefit patients but health professionals as well.

Putting knowledge into action:

Coaching techniques and motivational interviewing are invaluable tools for physicians when it comes to lifestyle interventions, but the main barrier is time. Here are some changes you can start making if you haven't already done so:

  • If your job requires you to sit, make a point to regularly get up and move around. Consider alternative workstations if possible with sit-stand options.
  • Organize a walking meeting instead of sitting around a table.
  • Look into workplace wellness options that are available to you or that you can facilitate in your work environment such as treadmills, noon hour yoga classes, etc.
  • Make a point of parking further away in a parking lot to get some extra steps.
  • When you are home, consider standing to do your computer work, set a timer to get up/move around if you are working on a project or add some standing stretches while watching TV.
  • Take the stairs when possible.
  • Make a date to go for a hike, walk the dog, play tennis or a round of mini golf.

Let's make a point to sit less and live longer. Do you have any suggestions to overcome sitting disease?

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