As a triathlete, you move more than most people. But unless you also sit less than the average person, you may still have a hard time reaching your ideal weight and optimizing your overall health. If you’re like most triathletes, when you’re not swimming, cycling or running, you’re probably sitting. That may need to change—at least a little.
According to conventional wisdom, if you exercise enough, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend sitting. But recent studies suggest that excessive time spent sitting promotes weight gain and compromises overall health independently of the amount of exercise you do.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Montreal published a study that looked at changes in calorie intake, activity level and obesity rates in Canada between 1972 and 2004. They found that while people were eating slightly less and were slightly more active in 2004, the obesity rate was also 10 percent higher. The authors speculated that people got fatter despite eating less and exercising more because of a shift toward more sedentary jobs over that 22-year period—in other words, because people were sitting more.
More focused studies have provided further evidence that the negative effects of sitting on body weight and metabolism may offset the positive effects of exercise. For example, a 2009 study at Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that the more time people spent sitting daily, the greater their risk was for dying of cardiovascular disease, regardless of how much they exercised.
Some scientists have speculated that one of the reasons exercise is seldom as effective for weight loss in practice as it is in theory is that people tend to unconsciously compensate for increases in exercise activity by moving less outside of workouts. A number of stories have explored this possibility, and the emerging consensus is that such compensation typically occurs only among the elderly. Nevertheless, it’s something to be mindful of, even if you’re young.
Experts are increasingly advising people to make daily efforts to reduce sitting time and increase daily activity outside of exercise. While this advice is based on research that has included few triathletes, who tend to work out a lot more than the average exerciser, the recommendation to sit less and move more can’t hurt and may help you get more out of your training.
Here are three simple ideas to try:
- Set a daily TV watching limit. How much television do you watch in a typical day? Two hours? Try setting a limit of 90 minutes a day.
- Don’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time. At work, get up from your desk every 30 minutes and walk over to the water cooler or visit a friend’s desk for at least one minute.
- Find ways to walk more. Treat the family dog to longer walks, schedule walking meetings with co-workers and start practicing that old trick of parking at the far end of the lot at the office or grocery store.