• Northwoods Health Centre

The wonder drug that could save your life... and best of all, it’s free

If your doctor offered you a new drug that cut your risk of death from heart disease, cancer or other disease by 30 per cent, you didn’t have to work hard (perhaps just stand and walk a bit) and was free, would you take it?

Well, that drug already exists, and is a form of physical activity that’s easy for anyone to incorporate into their day.

The importance of regular exercise is clear, and there are many ways to get it.

But many of us who pound the pavement, hit the gym, or push the pedals on a regular basis then tend to move less for the rest of the day. This means that the total activity we do may be about the same as a “non-exerciser” who might otherwise walk to work, stand at work, or chase their kids around all day.

Recent evidence strongly indicates that non-exercise physical activity, or NEPA, is at least as beneficial as deliberate exercise.

It also provides additional health benefits to those who do deliberate exercise already.

This is because it is now known that prolonged sitting or lying is dangerous to our health — it might sound strong but basically, when we’re sitting, we’re dying but when we’re moving we’re restoring.

And just to throw a few statistics your way to help me sell this idea, a recent review of the scientific literature showed that the risk of death is about 30 per cent less in people with high NEPA compared with people with low NEPA.

Another review indicated that simply walking or cycling to work can reduce cardiovascular disease risk by 11 per cent. That’s a lot of benefit for a little NEPA.

There are other reasons to be generally active throughout the day. When we move we release chemicals that make us feel good — you might have heard of serotonin and endorphins for example.

When we avoid prolonged sitting by standing or walking we produce these chemicals and we feel good. And surely that’s good?

So let me repeat my question. If your doctor could offer you a new drug that allowed you to cut your risk of death by 30 per cent, you didn’t have to work hard (perhaps just stand and walk a bit) and it was free, would you take it?

Well that drug exists but you don’t need a prescription. To get your NEPA, just stand, move, and enjoy it.

If you want to get more NEPA by reducing your sitting time try some of these:

1 . Stand for meetings, at your computer, at parties, or anywhere else you get the chance.

The small muscle contractions used to stand can double your resting energy compared with sitting.

2 . Walk to work or park as far from your office as you can, even if that means it still only takes five minutes to get to your desk. It all helps.

One Japanese study showed that career workers who were given parking spots much further from the office were healthier and lived longer than those who had spots near the office.

3 . Take the stairs. It’s almost as fast as taking the elevator (and you don’t have to wait for it) and is good for your health.

If you aren’t fit enough to walk up stairs, try walking down for a few weeks.

Research shows that the muscle actions involved in walking downhill have massive health benefits even though it feels much easier than walking up the stairs.

4 . Take the dog to the park, play with your children, or a friend’s children, or do some work around the house or yard.

5 . Most importantly, break up your sitting time by doing some type of movement every hour.

You could grab a coffee, walk to the toilet, visit a friend or colleague, or just wander somewhere new.

Anthony Blazevich is a professor of biomechanics and director of the Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research at Edith Cowan University school of exercise and health sciences.

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