As I write this I am entering my 7th week on crutches after recovering from a major surgery for a rotational osteotomy. The 5-hour surgery resulted in a broken femur with a rod in my leg and screws in my hip and above my knee. I had simultaneous hip arthroscopy and spent 5 days at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC. Anyway, as much as I love to stay fit and exercise I haven’t exactly been able to be very active for a while now. But that really is not the interesting part….
What I find interesting is how much I notice myself fidgeting lately. I shake my leg when I sit, I stretch, I rotate my torso and twist about in my chair, I tap my feet on the floor, etc. My husband has noticed too because every time I start to shake my leg a little too vigorously I get a “you are doing it again” kind of look. I’m not intentionally shaking, twitching and moving about but I remember this is how I was when I was young (way before I intentionally started exercising.) I was always told in school and at my grandmothers house to “sit still!” My mom never bothered to tell me this because she was a leg shaker too, so she understood me a bit better than everyone else. And it’s funny, because my own son is a ball of boundless energy who constantly is flipping and moving about. And I’m always telling him to “sit still!”
Gym-Free Secret: Why Sit Still?
Pretty much the last thing anybody should do these days is sit still. I really think most people today have a serious case of “sit-itus”—we are all practically addicted to sitting in our chairs. We shop, socialize, work, enjoy entertainment, drive and pretty much live our lives in a seated position. I’m guilty too. But I don’t actually just sit there motionless. And research shows this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As I was flipping through this month’s issue of my American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal (Vol. 16/ NO. 2), I couldn’t help but cut out the article titled “Sit Less and Stand and Move More.” The article explains how non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), or the energy one expends on all physical activities outside of purposeful exercise, plays a significant role in promoting good health. Really? My ears perked up as I started tapping my foot with a little more pep. And then I thought of my grandpa Earl who lived to be 98 years old who would sit in his chair as he shook his long lean leg and tell me he was doing his “exercise.” It drove my overweight grandmother nuts. Apparently grandpa Earl might have actually been onto something though because apparently NEAT activities as simple as shaking your foot or standing instead of sitting while talking on the phone, cause muscles to contract, positively impact fat metabolism, increase calorie expenditure and minimize long term weight gain.
Naturally Thin People Might Really Move More
Grandpa Earl was as thin as a beanpole and it might just be that naturally thin people really do fidget and move more. Although I normally intentionally exercise when I am not on crutches it might be that when I am not able to expend energy through exercise my body naturally makes up for it by causing me to move more. This is just my own theory but I do know that research shows a number of negative metabolic changes are associated with low levels of NEAT, including insulin resistance, obesity and metabolic syndrome. So it certainly can’t hurt to move a bit more!
If you are not a natural mover and shaker then you might want to consciously try to move for at least 10 minutes every hour. Here are just a few NEAT ways to get moving:
- Shake your leg when you are sitting (I am very good at this!)
- Walk around while you talk on the phone (I NEVER sit and talk)
- Stand and stretch
- Do calf raises
- Do side bends in your chair
- Do arm circles
- Tap your feet (I know from experience this can irritate people if you have loud shoes though)
- Do seated leg extensions
Oh yeah, and don’t forget to watch what you eat! Even if you are among the naturally thin people, what you eat matters. It matters a lot. And food matters more than fitness….