New findings about sedentary behavior have real implications for medical students, who spend a lot of time sitting during the first year or two of medical school. This is also an important issue for residents and practicing physicians, particularly those in the more sedentary fields of medicine like pathology, psychiatry and radiology. However, this problem affects us all, regardless of specialty. All physicians have become more sedentary due to the time we spend at our computers.
- Harmful metabolic changes happen to muscles that don’t contract for a couple of hours.
- Prolonged Sitting Leads to Glucose and Insulin Spikes
- The more you sit the higher the risk, independent of exercise
- Sitting increases your risk for the metabolic syndrome
- Sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for a variety of poor health outcomes
The goal is to move on this continuum from less activity to more… in other words, to become less sedentary. Here’s some ways to accomplish that goal:
- Make sure you move at least every hour. Breaking up sedentary time is important. Although just moving (even a short stroll) is good, if you have time and the inclination do something a little more strenuous. Walk up several flights of stairs, do 10 squats and 10 pushups, or whatever catches your fancy. Try to find ways to incorporate more activity into your day on a regular basis.
- Stand when you can. Stand when you are reading, working on the computer (with an adjustable desk), or just hanging out.
- Walk instead of looking up data on the computer on rounds. I’ve recently discovered I can access our EMR (Epic) on my iPad by installing the Citrix app. I’ve started taking my iPad with me on rounds, rather than sitting to look up notes, images and lab values. I’m still not to the point where I write my notes on the iPad, but I’m going to work on it.
- Walk to meet instead of sitting around a table. Rounds are obvious, but we have lots of other meetings as well. There are even physicians who have started doing a part of patient visits as a walk.
- Consider ways to move while you do your “sedentary” work:
Adjustable desks. Although there are a lot of these on the market that are really expensive, there are some that are more affordable, including desks marketed for kids in school. Or be creative and make your own adjustable desk.
Under the desk pedals are inexpensive, and are particularly effective if you are reading and studying.
Put a desk on your stationary bicycle. Work while pedaling on your stationary bike. If you have a bicycle, you’ll need to by a trainer to convert it to a stationary bike. I recently bought a desk (FitDesk Pro) for my spin bike and it really works. If you don’t want to spend the money, there are other ways to use your laptop or read while you are on a stationary bike like using an ironing board, or putting your bike under an adjustable desk. I particularly liked this idea of a bicycle rack that doubles as a desk.
Fit Desk. If you don’t own a stationary bike, and don’t mind spending $200, look into the Fit Desk. Friends who have tried this say it is very stable while pedaling.
Treadmill desk. This is the most expensive option, but for practicing physicians is not at all a reach. For students and residents, if you can find an old treadmill, you can build this for $39.