Your Kids' Annoying Behavior Could Save Your Life

service, please

Service, please!

These kids and their demands. It’s not so bad when you actually make a commitment to paying attention to them. But if you’re trying to get anything else done, forget it. Each kid translates to an increased interruption frequency of  +27.6%. Okay, I made that up. But it does seem like when kids are around there is about zero chance of sitting in your chair for longer than 7 minutes at a stretch. There you are trying to relax and watch some cancelled soap operas, or write your very important blog post, when you are wrested from your supine stupor by the inevitable cry:

“Mommmmmy?”

Which can only mean one thing. You need to get off your comfortable butt and do something. Though these kid interruptions may be bad for your productivity, it turns out they might actually be good for you. And not just because they make you pay attention to somebody besides yourself for a change.

A recent article in the NYTimes warned of the dangers of one of our most common activities: sitting still. We’ve known for a while that inactivity is unhealthy. But we used to think we could compensate for our generally sedentary lifestyle with bursts of intense exercise. It seems this is untrue. Dr. James Levine, a leader in “Inactivity Studies” and a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, explains:

“Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,’ Dr. Levine says, ‘is a lethal activity.’” And we can’t negate the ill effects by working out later, any more than we could erase the health consequences of smoking with a jog.

A better plan, scientists say, is to break up those periods of inactivity with frequent activity breaks.. Not necessarily strenuous activity, just doing something that requires you to move and expend a little energy.  Dr. Levine gave this idea a name: “NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In the world of NEAT, even the littlest stuff matters.”

For example, getting up to take a walk around your office. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Bending down to tie a shoe. And even unconscious small movements like fidgeting. (I don’t think the motion of your thumbs on your phone or your fingers on the keyboard are quite enough, however.)

As our culture gets more screen-centric, we have fewer natural opportunities for activity in our day to day lives. We can access everything we need without lifting more than a finger (or ten). I know I have a tendency to be annoyed by my children when their wants and needs pull me out of this self-sufficient bubble where my body hardly seems to even exist. According to James Levine, it’s this kind of lazy living, not necessarily the lack of hard exercise, that’s threatening our health.

Of course, there are other issues: diet is an obvious one. Parents of young children were recently shown to be less fit than childless people of the same age (though there were some complicating factors in the study). It may be harder for parents to find time to exercise, but this is one part of the equation where parents may actually have it a little easier. With your kids around, you’re probably not going to have to look for something to drag you out of your sedentary state. These will arise naturally as your services are demanded elsewhere, to pick up a baby, get someone a drink of water, arbitrate a sibling argument, or that favorite of all parental responsibilities, wipe a butt. Maybe we just have to learn to see them as opportunities instead of annoyances. Those reluctant trudges to the bathroom could be saving your life.

photo: spigoo/flickr

Squeeze in these family-inclusive fitness activities in 12 Ways to Find Work-Out Time!

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