I read a large number of health news alerts, updates and research results related to dementia, ageing science, and public health and I have to confess this new slogan for highlighting the dangers of sedentary behaviour caught me off guard.
I think the reason ‘Sitting is the New Smoking’ is so powerful for me is that it identifies how invisible the negative impact of sitting is. We, including me too, have a difficult time imagining that sitting more is dangerous, especially when we have worked hard to earn a chance to sit down. Whether it’s a reward after a hard day’s work, a chance to catch up with friends, some time to work on that much loved hobby or keep in touch with friends on our computer — it all adds up. Suddenly, we’re sitting for ten, twelve even fourteen hours a day and when you add seven hours of sleeping, we end up with a sedentary lifestyle that has become a public health nightmare. And, just like smoking, sitting is something you don’t see the impact of until the damage to the body is done.
The risks of sitting for individuals with dementia is the same but they are often encouraged to sit down by carers supporting them. If you’re a family carer, it can be especially taxing when you’re being shadowed or trying to keep an eye on a loved one on the move, you will eventually need a break and it’s easier to keep an eye on someone who sits in one place. But sitting usually leads to more sitting which can lead to agitation, negative changes on sleeping patterns and changes in a person’s balance creating a higher risk of falls and injury, so it’s not ideal. If you’re facing these challenges, it’s probably time to connect with more companion carers who can take the pressure off of you and engage more specifically with your loved one. Engagement, walks and activities can help with all of this but it has to happen in twos and not alone for the person with dementia — one of the realities of the disease.
So, what can we as carers do to take good care of ourselves? Some carers will tell me they never sit down but chances are when we count how much sitting we do, it’s probably too much. One clever way of changing our routine is to get the body moving in and around our ‘sitting times’. We can do this by creating a standing desk, something George Washington, Ernest Hemingway, and Winston Churchill used. You don’t have to use it all day, but any time standing is time our body is working to stay strong to support our body weight and it reduces the back pain we can experience from sitting. Another way to make a difference is to have walking meetings with friends or colleagues. If half of our meetings were active, the sitting ones would be less detrimental. Some of the evidence says part of the winning solution is to not let your body be in rest for long periods. If you break up sitting time with active time your muscles remain activated while you sit, which sounds like a good idea to me.