While there’s no such thing as the fountain of youth, you’ll be happy to know that your age doesn’t necessarily dictate your health. Although there are some factors you cannot control, like genetics and some diseases, there are many things within your control that can help you stay young longer. Remember the obvious don’ts: don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t eat poorly, don’t stress, don’t hold grudges.
And don’t sit too much.
“Really?” you may be wondering. “Sitting is dangerous?”
Indeed, the actual act of sitting for long periods of time can cause you to age faster. So if you want to stay young, sitting is not so pretty after all.
Stay Young By Reducing Your Sitting Time
Not only has sitting been linked to a host of health complications like weight gain, obesity, heart problems, and diabetes, but there is now evidence that sitting too long can affect cells at the biological level, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study focused on the length of telomeres, the parts of the chromosome that protect it from deterioration, and found that participants who were sedentary had shorter telomeres than those who spent less time sitting.
What are Telomeres?
Telomeres are the stretches of DNA at the ends of our chromosomes. They form a cap to help protect the chromosomes from sticking to other chromosomes. They also organize each of our 46 chromosomes in the nucleus of our cells, and they help our chromosomes replicate during cell division. Our telomeres get shorter each time a cell divides, and when they get too short, the cell can no longer divide. At this point, the cell becomes either inactive or dies. This shortening process has been associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death.
The Sit Study
A long-term study at the University of California San Diego involved 1,500 older women who were being assessed for chronic diseases in their postmenopausal years. Part of the study focused on the impact of sitting on chromosomes and telomeres. The condition of the telomeres would determine how old a cell is and essentially how old the participant’s body is.
The researchers compared telomere length to how much the women exercised, to see if physical activity affected aging. They found that women who spent about 10 or more hours of sitting or those who did not perform 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily had shorter telomeres than other women who didn’t sit as much.
- The amount of premature shortening added up to an estimated eight years of aging. This essentially means that if you aren’t committed to exercising regularly, or if you’re spending a big chunk of your day sitting, your body might just be eight years older than it should be. On the other hand, if you’re getting your daily dose of exercise, you can potentially slow down the shortening process—and perhaps stay young for a bit longer.
- Participants who exercised for 30 to 40 minutes daily showed no association between how much time they spent sitting and their telomere length, which means that physical activity may counteract shortening that occurs with aging.
“Our results suggest that the combination of being sedentary and not engaging in enough physical activity to prevent the telomeres from shortening leads to the shorter telomere length,” said leading scientist, Aladdin Shadyab. “Women who did not meet the physical activity guideline and were sedentary for at least 10 hours a day were biologically older; their cells are aging faster than those of women who were less sedentary.”
Finding Time to Stay Young in a Sedentary Society
Thirty to forty minutes a day of physical activity doesn’t seem that difficult to accomplish, but when you’re up at 6 am, getting the kids ready, getting yourself ready, driving to and from work, and being stuck in front of a computer during all the hours in between, it can seem hard to find even a half hour to exercise. Global studies show that we sit 7.7 hours a day, on average. Other results estimate people sit up to 15 hours a day.
But there is time. Just commit to a small window in your day, and find ways to work physical activity into your routine until it becomes a habit.
Here are some ideas of where you can grab 30 minutes in your day for enough physical activity to stay young longer:
- If you have to be at work for 8 am, get up at 5 am and commit to a 30 minute brisk walk around your neighborhood every morning. This will leave you 30 minutes to shower and get dressed, 30 minutes to get the kids dressed, and 30 minutes for breakfast before you leave out the door at 7 am. If you have to get to work by 9 am, you have even more flexibility to get a walk or workout done in the morning.
- Instead of taking an hour for lunch, take 30 minutes to walk around your office building and the other half hour to eat. You can always freshen up in the bathroom afterwards. If you only have a half hour lunch, still get your 30 minute walk done and bring something easy to snack on at your desk for after your workout (nuts, fruit, etc).
- After dinner, commit to taking a walk or bike ride with the whole family outdoors. If it’s raining, do some jumping jacks, pushups, and sit-ups indoors. If you start your kids young on this habit, they’ll come to expect it and will continue to incorporate regular activity in their daily routine as they grow older.
- For a more vigorous workout, wait until your kids go to bed and take turns with your spouse to exercise.
You don’t have to compete for an IronMan Championship to stay healthy; the key is finding just a little time in your day to get up and get moving—and sticking to it! Not only will your body benefit on the cellular level, but you will also feel better and have more energy.