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Can Regular Exercisers Afford to Be Couch Potatoes?

Tired Female Runner Sitting on the Stairs RestingIt seems so obvious that marathon runners (or half-marathon runners) are active, healthy people. They can eat whatever they want and take the day off once they finish their workout, right? I mean, if you’re running five or six miles a day, certainly that is enough time spent on your feet. Put them up and get some rest, already!

I know that was my approach to fitness when I was in college and just starting to run: “Got my workout in this morning! I’m free to sit and read, and write the rest of the day!” And if that plate of cookies happened to disappear while I was in the process, well, it would be okay. I’d earned it. Right?

Wrong.

Running — even running marathons, and putting in the many miles of training to be able to do that — does not negate all of the consequences of living a sedentary lifestyle. Nor does it give license to eat whatever you want (unless what you want is a well-balanced diet heavy on the fruits and vegetables and light on fatty, sugar-loaded, and processed food).

The more researchers study the human body and try to determine how to maximize health and happiness, the more is becomes clear that our bodies were meant to be in motion and that even being active for a period of time throughout the day does not exclude us from also being sedentary. A recent survey of Texas runners found that active people who spend an average of 7 hours a week sweating also spend at least 8 hours a day sitting whether it be at their jobs, watching TV, while they are on the phone, or whatever meaning that, technically they are sedentary. Active sedentary people. Couch potato runners.

Granted, exercising for an hour a day and then sitting for 8 hours at work is better than only sitting for 8 hours. But it’s also not as good and won’t keep you as healthy as if you get up and walk around every hour when you’re at work, do some stretching and bending during commercial breaks, or go for a walk after dinner before you sit down with your book.

Finding time to get up and move during the day when you have a job that requires a lot of sitting can, obviously, be extremely difficult. Setting a timer to go off every hour is a good way to remind yourself to stand up, stretch, get a sip of water at the drinking fountain, do a couple of squats, and then get back to work.

For my part, I feel like I have a decent handle on how to avoid being sedentary at least for now. Actually, I have three of them. The oldest one is in school 6 miles from our house, and I ride my bike to pick him up every day. The middle one keeps me on my feet by demanding that I “come here and watch this!” every few minutes. And the last one, in addition to climbing onto everything and making messes faster than I can clean them up, crawls into my lap whenever I sit down at the computer and bangs on the keyboard, making it impossible to work.

Yes, I find that motherhood is a much better strategy against a sedentary lifestyle than I could have come up with otherwise. And after I’ve spent 10 hours of the day on my feet with only brief rests to eat meals and read stories, I feel like my few hours of sitting time at the end of the day truly are well-earned.

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