Unfortunately, I spend too much time sitting.
As you might guess, I was sitting at my computer while I wrote this. Most of us watch TV and read while sitting. We sit in meetings, in vehicles and on planes.
Have you ever tracked the amount of time you spend sitting? Are you sitting at a desk, table or couch as you read this? Kudos to you if you are standing.
After some long airline trips and sitting in conference rooms, I felt the aftermath of too much sitting. I could barely stand without feeling shooting pain in my lower back. I think lifting a heavy suitcase didn't help, either.
I felt like I was 150 years old after that trip.
Sitting too much has been called "the new smoking" by some health experts. People who sat too much had similar health risks as those who were smokers and/or overweight.
According to a study published in the March 2012 Archives of Internal Medicine, people who sit 11 hours a day may be 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years than those who sit a shorter amount of time. Compared with those who sat less than four hours a day, those who sat for eight to 11 hours daily faced 15 percent higher odds of dying.
The Australian researchers examined data collected from more than 222,000 people age 45 and older, and they ruled out other factors, including age, gender and weight.
Today, unlike previous generations, many jobs are sedentary ones, where people are seated at desks for long hours. We certainly want comfortable, ergonomic chairs to support our backs, but we might want to make an effort to get out of our chairs regularly during the day.
Another group of researchers linked excessive sitting with increasing our risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, we can figure out creative ways to move while getting work done. Some sit on large exercise balls at their desks, which strengthens core muscles. Others stand while they talk on the phone, walk over to talk to someone instead of calling the person, have walking meetings or bring their reading assignments to a treadmill.
We may be able to set our phones or wearable fitness devices to remind us to get up and move. We also can stretch at our desk.
Although we may stretch naturally like a cat in the morning, stretching may be done at any time of the day. Everyone needs a certain amount of flexibility or range of motion in the joints. Stretching can help maintain flexibility.
To stretch a muscle properly, you should try to lengthen the muscle to a point where you just feel the muscle stretching. Stretching should not hurt. The statement "no pain, no gain" has no place in a stretching program.
Remember to breathe while stretching or doing other exercises. Holding your breath during a stretch may increase your blood pressure above safe levels.
This week, I am providing four stretching exercises and an online resource with exercises you can try while sitting or standing. I did the exercises while pondering my column topic. My muscles appreciated it.
Exercise 1. To stretch neck muscles: Sit straight. Turn your head to the left as far as it will go and hold six seconds. Turn your head to the right as far as it will go and hold six seconds. Repeat this sequence four times.
Exercise 2. To stretch neck muscles: Sit or stand straight and lower your left ear to your left shoulder. Hold six seconds, then relax and repeat on the right side. Repeat the sequence four times.
Exercise 3. To stretch shoulders and pectoral (chest) muscles: Clasp your hands behind your back and straighten your arms as much as possible. Move your arms away from your back, keeping your chest and head up. Hold for six seconds. Return your arms to the start position and relax for six seconds. Repeat four times.
Exercise 4. To stretch the back of your arms: Sit or stand straight. Grab one elbow with the opposite hand and gently pull your elbow behind your head. Hold for six seconds, then relax. Repeat twice.
Check out the NDSU Extension online guide ("Stretching Toward Better Health") with more information and photos of several stretching exercises. See tinyurl.com/NDSUExtensionstretching to view and/or print the guide.
If you are looking for a tasty "comfort food" for a cold evening, here's one that was a hit with my family.
Creamy White Chicken Chili
1 Tbsp. cooking oil (canola, sunflower, etc.)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 c. chopped onion (about 1 medium)
4 tsp. chopped garlic (or 1½ tsp. garlic powder)
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans (such as great northern or pinto beans), rinsed and drained
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chili peppers, undrained
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 c. low-fat sour cream
½ cup half-and-half
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, tortilla chips
Prepare ingredients as indicated. Heat oil briefly, then add chicken, onion and garlic; cook until the chicken is fully cooked and the onions are translucent. Add the remaining ingredients, except sour cream and half-and-half. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Add sour cream and half-and-half, and stir until combined.
Makes six servings. Each serving has 320 calories, 12 g fat, 26 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber and 580 milligrams sodium.