Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sitting is The New Smoking: Get Up Off Your Seat!

By: Jenn Ripepi, MD, Choosy Pediatrician


You may have heard that "sitting is the new smoking" in the last few years. What is meant by this is that sitting for long periods is bad for our health in many ways. We are meant to move and do it frequently. So what does this mean for our children and their futures?

Sitting decreases our need to breathe deeply, to have our muscles contract and demand increased blood flow. That is the opposite of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is the kind that improves your blood flow and helps to prevent plugged arteries. When we walk, run, swim, and bike or do other activities which get us to breathe harder and our hearts to pump faster, it helps to keep our arteries clear. When we sit we are not using our muscles and letting our blood vessels keep opened up as much as when we move. Over time, that that adds up.

Sit Up Straight


Teaching children to have good posture is important, especially in the pre-school years. Children grow at a rapid pace during their first four years of life and there is an increase in postural responses. It then regresses until adult postural reflexes are reached sometime between 7-10 years of age. So as professionals see it, the most “training”, or using correct sitting/standing positions in static posture and its dynamic reflexes occurs during the early pre-school years of life.

Our overall posture is affected by sitting for long periods. We tend to let our heads drop and that in turn leads our shoulders to hunch forward and our lower backs to curve forward. Our core muscles in our abdomen and lower back get weak. We end up with lower back problems and the whole host of other spinal problems like headaches. For our children who have developing skeletons this is a stress that may force their posture to be permanently impacted. That leads me to the next point.

Build Strong Bones


Strong bones are built not just from calcium and phosphorus but by being used. We have learned from the astronauts in space for long periods that their bone mass decreases when they are out of Earth's gravity. That led others to look at what happens here on the Earth's surface in a number of situations. People have more bone mass when they are physically working against gravity in what we refer to as weight-bearing exercise. That means walking, running, jumping, climbing---moving your body against the Earth's gravitational pull. If children are not moving, they are not building the strong bones to carry them through their lifetimes.


Muscles Matter


Muscles are meant to be used! Our bodies have been built for walking, running, climbing and jumping. If we don't use our muscles, they tend to become weak. Weak muscles can be built up but it takes a lot more work to build strong muscles when someone has not been used to using them. Ask anyone who has gone through physical therapy after an injury and a period of rest. They likely will tell you it was difficult to get started but got easier as their therapy progressed.

Get Moving!


You wouldn’t believe how often I heard in my practice as a pediatrician that kids are tired all the time! Then I'd ask what they "did" all day and they'd answer that they spent most of their time sitting! Not really "doing" anything! They were bored! Our minds need physical as well as mental stimulation. 

A few years ago I read a study about recess in schools and children's performance. Children who had recess with active free play did better in afternoon classes and with their behaviors than children who did not have that opportunity. Children are in classrooms for hours and are kept sitting for that time. They sit on the bus. They sit to do homework. Then many sit in front of a television or video games or other device when they get home. And don’t forget, when they are sitting, they should be at least practicing proper posture or they may have issues down the road.

What Can We Do As Child Advocates?


It is important to help young children learn that when their heart beats faster because they are moving, it is actually healthy and good for them. Help them identify if their heart is "resting," happy, or very happy based on sensing their heart rate. Continue to reinforce the idea of happy, healthy hearts for the entire family. Make everyone’s hearts happy in your family and engage in active movement together. 

At home, keep active not only to help your children but to help yourself. Less screen time and more active time as a family. If you and your children are watching a television show or engaging in technology of some kid, have frequent movement breaks to encourage blood flow and muscle use. 

Music is also a great tool to get our hearts beating. There are many different types of music that enable children to expand upon their listening horizons, imaginations and movements. Allow your children to listen to a variety of music and dance and sing along with them.


When you are on the go, free play outside stimulates big movements and strength and allows children to explore their surroundings. The fresh air and open spaces allow those big, deep breaths we need to keep up with our bodies' demand for oxygen. 

When children are required to sit in school, ask the teachers how they build movement into their lessons. Ask how recess is spent during inclement weather and advocate for active play indoors in a large open space when possible, if the students cannot go outside frequently. (You may be able to let the educators know that they'll have more alert and better behaved children when they allow recess.) 

Try to observe how long children sit when you are with them. A little activity break during homework time can help their concentration. Additionally, try to avoid the command to sit still except when it is really needed (like mealtimes, religious services, haircuts, etc). As we as a society begin to relearn that we are meant to move frequently, we can let our children lead us naturally in movement. All we have to do is follow their lead!

How do you help your children stay active and moving, rather than sitting all day? 


About the Author: I have been a pediatrician for over 25 years. My husband and I have been privileged to raise 4 bright and healthy children. I have tried to gather wisdom from the families I have been blessed to meet during my journey. I believe in practical and flexible parenting to help raise healthy adults. I love to garden, hike, travel and cook and I am looking forward to hearing from Choosy followers.

45 comments :

  1. Great blog post!

    I really like your point on recess. We are seeing more and more how NECESSARY it is for children to have physical activity to do better in their studies.

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  2. You offer so much advice in this post, I love it. Thanks for a great reading experience.

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  3. I like your point on Recess. Kids need physical activity and a way to get out and use their ionization. Recess is a big part of this.

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  4. Kids absolutely need to stay active and move frequently through the day. This is also great advice for adults. I was just talking to my husband about how he needs to get up and move during the day.

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  5. Sitting at a desk all day makes it hard to get moving, but I need to take a walking break every hour just to get the blood flowing. Good advice!

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  6. This is a great reminder. My posture is the worst! My kids are pretty active, but I need to stay on them.

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  7. I so agree! My kids are super active through their daily sports. I'm the one that needs to quit sitting at the computer, lol.

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    1. I used to walk around the soccer or baseball field, or up and down the bleachers when they had indoor practices. Even better when you get other parents to join you!

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  8. I love getting my kids up and moving, we are definitely losing the outside mind set in our society.

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  9. There's nothing healthier than a physically active body, which is important especially for kids. These days though, you'll find people sitting around instead. I really appreciate these ideas. It's also better if you try to set an example and be active yourself.

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  10. Exercise is so important and starting out young is a great way to make it a lifelong habit. We really do sit too much these days.

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  11. Recess is so important. My oldest is especially fidgety. He needs to be constantly engaged and moving. This was a great post and I agree with you 100%.

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  12. Yes! I am actually guilty of this too, not only my kids. I sit and work on the computer way too much. I need to make it a point to get up every once in a while and stretch or do some quick exercises. I've been noticing a lot of neck and shoulder pain. Luckily, my boys are pretty active. Even watching TV, they are usually playing trains or cars on the ground too. They also love to run!

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  13. Bold title but you're right, we do lead such sedentary lives, at work all day, and home again on the couch. It's my toddler who won't sit still haha.

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes imitating our children is the best way to stay healthy! And it's fun, too!

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  14. It's important especially for kids to stay active. As parents, we need to set examples and it's more fun when you do the activities together.

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  15. AHhhhhhh it's tough to get kids up and moving sometimes!!! I swear things like iPads ruined outside play. I have to force my daughter outside to run around half the time lol...

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  16. I make sure that my kids have enough activities throughout the day to keep them going instead of sitting down looking at their gadgets. There are great ideas!

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  17. We are rarely on gadgets once kids get home from school. We are constantly running around and playing fun outside games.

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  18. Absolutely true! I just tell my kids to keep moving. It's horrible how much they sit.

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  19. This is great advice for kids and adults. They keep shortening recess and I hate it. I found out the other day that lunch is only 15 minutes in elementary school. Seriously!!!!

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    Replies
    1. Discussing issues like this with school officials and other parents is a way to advocate for health for students and teachers!

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  20. We homeschool, and my kids have this need to take frequent breaks to run around. I definitely encourage it though. And it gets me out of my sitting all the time too, run around the block, do some yoga etc.

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  21. Thank you for the great advice, and we have been trying to make an effort to do more outdoor activities so we are not always sitting. We try and go for walks daily and we go to the park every Friday night. Thanks for the information as to why it's so important for kids to be active!

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  22. Oh, this is really alarming. I've been sitting the whole day! I need a new routine.

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    Replies
    1. Only takes a few weeks to develop a new good habit!

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  23. I should insists more outdoor time with Jacob. This post is really informative, thanks for the awareness.

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  24. I've been sitting for my work. I should make some stretching and bring my son outdoor.

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    1. And don't forget some fun music to make the moving easier!

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  25. This is a very nice post, very eye-opener. I will spend more time on outdoor activities with my son.

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  26. What wonderful advice for all of us. This is very informative, I should check my lifestyle.

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  27. I agree so much with "sitting is the new smoking" I am so glad about the advances technology has had, but I also think many people only live for it. I am all about incorporating technology in our lives, but also to keep moving like in the old days. Have your kids play a sport, park far away so you do your daily walking, etc.

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    1. Technology can help to motivate us...like we are doing now! Also devices like activity trackers can help some people move too.

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  28. I couldn't agree with you more! This is why I try to stay active much as possible.

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  29. I am a dentist and I absolutely know what effect sitting for long period can have!!!
    As for making my child move..main thing I try to reduce screen time. That itself is half the bottle won!

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  30. I am a dentist and I absolutely know what effect sitting for long period can have!!!
    As for making my child move..main thing I try to reduce screen time. That itself is half the bottle won!

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  31. sll of these is true! my daughter is 8yrs old and runs with me on the threadmill at the gym and swim afterwards 10 laps everyday

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  32. Not kids yet but this is a really great post. I personally been hitting the gym trying to stay active and not a couch potato

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  33. I have not heard this saying but it is definitely true. We need to get more active!

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  34. My kids try to stay as active as possible. I do not let them just sit idle as much as I can.

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  35. All of this is the truth! Staying active is going to lead to a longer life.

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  36. What wonderful advice! I am always telling my children to straighten their backs when they're sitting.

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  37. great information. we def need are kids to do as much physical activity as possible

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