I’ve discussed the serious consequences of sitting and a sedentary lifestyle. When you sit, you use less energy. Even standing or moving can help.
Over the past decade, the average daily sitting time has increased by roughly an hour, to about eight hours for U.S. teens and almost 6 1/2 hours for adults, according to researchers. That includes school and work hours, but leisure-time computer use among all ages increased too.
Most of us spend way too much time sitting down- and have the not-so-flat belly to prove it. In fact, the Physical Activity Council report showed that the percent of Americans who participated in high-calorie-burning activities reached an all-time low (with only 29.7 percent participating) in 2017. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why sitting is so detrimental to health, but one explanation is that the less we move, the less fuel we require. So, when our eating habits remain the same, there is a surplus of blood sugar that floods the bloodstream and contributes to diabetes and other weight related risks. Even if you’re forced to sit for extended periods of time you can actually burn calories while sitting!
While your job, TV habits, or school-work may impede some of your activity, there are steps you can take to whittle your middle and maintain your health. By adopting healthy habits that stimulate your metabolism, boost calorie burn, and stave off overeating, you can still lose weight while you sit.
Turn down the heat:
Because your body uses energy to keep you warm, turning down the thermostat may help burn more calories and attack belly fat stores. That is, according to a study in Diabetes, which found that colder temperatures subtly enhance the effectiveness of our stores of brown fat. Participants who, over the course of a month, slept at 66 degrees almost doubled their volumes of brown fat and improved insulin sensitivity, whereas a subsequent month at 81 degrees undid these metabolic enhancements and even decreased brown fat stores. Why is this important? Brown fat, unlike the more common white adipose, is metabolically active in that it keeps you warm by helping you burn fat stored in your belly—which means you can actually burn calories while sitting. Unfortunately you’re also burning through A/C bills!
Replace your chair:
If you’re looking to burn calories while sitting, and tone up in the process, invest in a stability ball. Swapping out your desk chair for a stability ball will help you strengthen your core, back, and legs and burn more calories at the same time. According to Jill Koegel, RD, a sports-certified registered dietitian, replacing your chair to sit on one of these sports balls can help you burn an extra 100 calories a day. If you work 300 days in a year, that could add up to melting away 8.5 pounds! And if you don’t want to fully commit, just opt for this stimulating alternative an hour per day or at home.
Replace your desk:
As I discussed in the post on sitting, you can also invest in a desk that changes height and allows you to stand at times throughout the day. That way your work isn’t impeded, just your sedentary actions. I’m told they’re easy to use and work well. A friend says she sets a timer to remind her to change positions every hour. Otherwise she tends to get involved in a project and time flies by before she remembers to get up and move.
Keeping water nearby at all times is absolutely imperative to losing pounds. It’s easy, accessible and you don’t have to change positions! Because water is essential to hundreds of metabolic processes, keeping your body hydrated ensures your body is functioning at its optimal levels and boosts your energy. In fact, a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that drinking just over 2 cups of water actually increased the metabolic rate of participants by 30 percent- in just 30 minutes! A study in Obesity discovered that people who drank 2 glasses of water before meals consumed up to 90 fewer calories over the course of a meal than they would have otherwise. This may simply be because water is filling, but researchers note the added H2O may also displace calories typically spent on high-energy beverages.
Just because you’re sitting down doesn’t mean you have to be sedentary. Light stretches throughout the day can relax muscles while burning a few extra calories. Try crossing your arm across your body and pulling it closer with your other arm, then switch. Reach up toward the sky and lean over on both sides. You can also tone up your leg muscles while sitting. Squeeze a ball between your thighs, knees, or calves. Do front-inside-outside toe taps, calf raises, and toe raises. Read here, here, and here for just a few chair exercises I have shared, and also check out these chair yoga exercises. Sitting isn’t an excuse for not exercising too.
Make snacks count:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that about two-thirds of adults snack at least twice a day. So, by keeping healthy snacks on hand instead of indulging in gut-busting candy bars from the vending machine, you’ll ensure you can stick to your diet. Choosing snacks which help you feel full -like nuts, greek yogurt, and hummus- can stave off overeating and keep your energy levels consistent. When you do start to munch, sit somewhere other than in front of the computer while you continue to work; multitasking when eating can disrupt satiety cues from reaching your brain in time.
It’s tempting to guzzle down a diet soda to get over that mid-afternoon slump—but don’t do it! A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that adults who drank diet soda experienced a whopping 70 percent increase in weight circumference compared to non-soda drinkers. Instead, grab a low-cal cup of black coffee, or better yet, some green tea. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found teas—including green teas—contain certain antioxidants known as catechins that boost fat oxidation.
Listen to music:
Grab your headphones and listen to some tunes. Numerous studies have shown that listening to relaxing music can decrease the production of cortisol, a hormone responsible for stress, carbohydrate cravings, and fat-storage. Can’t listen to music while you work? No problem; just throw on some ambient soft, slow jazz during your break. A study in Psychological Reports found that soft music leads diners to eat less and enjoy their food more. Just be sure you can still hear your munching. Studies have found that loud music or television that blocks your sense of hearing can also prevent satiety cues from telling your body you’ve had your fill. In fact, this mistake may be one of the reasons you’re always hungry if you eat in front of a loud TV. Changing to Pandora with preferred soft background tunes as opposed to uncontrollable radio stations made a huge difference in the office mood. Even patients have commented on the positive feelings the music creates- and if it helps us to lose weight, so much the better!
You know your mind can affect your body, but did you know your body also can affect your mind? You might not feel confident, but if you partake in certain “power poses” like sitting up straight in your chair, psychologists like Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy, believe you can actually boost your mood, which may decrease levels of the stress-inducing and fat-storing hormone, cortisol. Plus, sitting up straight with your shoulder back and your abs tight—compared to slouching at your desk—requires engaging more muscles and can burn a few more calories.
Remember when I shared the benefits of laughing? Pull up a clip of your favorite comedian during a break and your gut-busting laughter may actually help bust your gut. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that a genuine belly laugh may cause a 10 to 20 percent increase in basal metabolic rate, which translates to a staggering 40- to 170-calorie burn for every 10- to 15-minute laugh-a-thon! Bring your coworkers in for a much needed relief and that positive attitude will spread throughout the office.
Keep fruit on hand:
While it’s smart to keep fruit on hand so you have smart snacking options, there’s another more surprising reason: studies have shown that smelling fresh fruits, like apples, bananas, and pears, can curb appetite and make sugary desserts less appealing. Scientists suggest this is because the produce makes you subconsciously think about making healthier choices and can consequently help you break bad eating habits. Keep them easily accessible and ready when you’re tempted to eat something.
Put unhealthy snacks away:
Just as important as keeping healthy snacks on hand put the unhealthy ones, like candy, out of sight. Cravings usually pass in ten minutes and it’s easier to ignore them when you can’t get to what you’re craving quickly. The best option- don’t bring them in to the workplace or home at all. But even putting them in a brown paper bag so they can’t be seen easily can help. If they’re harder to find, that extra bit of time might make all the difference in what you finally choose to eat.
Don’t miss lunchtime:
I understand that work sometimes gets in the way, but don’t let it throw your eating patterns completely off track. Set an alarm to eat lunch before 3 p.m. every day. An International Journal of Obesity study found that obese women who ate their lunch after 3 p.m. lost an astounding 25 percent less weight than those who ate their lunch earlier in the day. The fact that the early-bird diners lost five pounds more is even more shocking when you consider that both groups ate the same foods and the same amount of calories. Scientists believe that pushing out lunch until you’re starving may spark cravings for more food later in the day.
Feeling the pressure to get a report done? Take a few deep breaths to calm down, and shed a few pounds. Deep breathing exercises can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows us to calm down, relax and reduce stress. This also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with belly fat, sugar cravings and decreased lean muscle tissue. This is really important because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. It can’t hurt, every one has to breath.
Don’t go it alone:
A study published in Health Promotion Practice found that those who received weekly text reminders of their daily “calorie budget” and motivational emails made healthier snack and meal choices throughout the week. Set up labeled alarms on your phone to go off throughout the day. That way, when 3 p.m. rolls around, you see: “Great job, today! Reward yourself with a fruity snack!” And if you sit next to another dieting coworker, team up to hold each other accountable. After all, the study also found that people tend to conform to “eating norms” in social settings. Having another health-minded coworker can be useful when donuts get sent around.
Sitting doesn’t have to be the reason you’re gaining or not losing weight. In this day and age of longer hours at work and home in front of a variety of lighted boxes- rebel! You may have few options to curtail the time, but you have all the options you want to curtail your weight gain as a result. Don’t give in, use these simple ideas and you’ll see the difference.