I and a few zillion of my fellow Americans watched, slack-jawed and awed, as Clint Eastwood held a lengthy conversation with a chair a few weeks back at the Republican National Convention. Clint, a hero or at least bad-ass role model to so many, looked a little off his rocker (pun intended) as he berated an invisible and ostensibly seated Obama, who did not even have the sense to invisibly stand up and pretend to look back into Clint’s steely blue eyes to defend himself.
Perhaps the reason that Josey Wales decided to put Obama in his seated place was that he had read the study recently released by Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge which found that sitting more than 3 hours per day could reduce life span by as much as two years. Not only that, and this should actually worry Clint as it might cut into his royalty income, but the study also found that watching TV for less than 2 hours a day could add 1.4 years to one’s life span, a time period that would enable one to watch the entirety of Clint’s body of work and then some.
I admit that I am sitting as I write this just as I would bet a Fistful of Dollars that you are sitting as you read this. Our lives as grown-ups are, sadly, largely programmed around chairs and couches. Unless you work outside an office-like setting, you are on your butt for hours and hours every day, and that doesn’t even count the ride to work or meal-time or the time you spend watching SportsCenter.
In an article on the research findings, the study co-author Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., associate executive director for Population Science and LFPA Endowed Chair (no pun intended) at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, is quoted as saying, “This study elevates the importance of sedentary behavior as a risk factor for premature mortality. The risks associated with sedentary behavior appear to be on par with the risks associated with smoking and obesity.” The article goes on to point out that several previous studies have “linked extended periods spent sitting down and/or watching TV to poor health such as diabetes and death from heart disease/stroke.”
Well that sucks. It’s very hard to stop smoking and to lose weight, but at least there are programs that give us paths to doing so. It is beyond hard to imagine a world in which we could readily reduce our sitting habits from 8 hours/day to 3 without becoming a farm worker or dance instructor or Forrest Gump. The best thing to address sedentary behavior in the office environment is to use a standing or walking desk, both of which exist and are known to be helpful, but which are rarely part of the average American office furniture plan. We have Weight Watchers but no Chair Watchers (except Clint). You can chew Nicorette to cut down on cigarettes but what can you chew to reduce sitting time? Chair legs?
Noting that adults spend an average of 55% of their day engaged seated in one way or another, the Pennington study’s authors state that, “a significant shift in behavior change at the population level is required to make demonstrable improvements in life expectancy.” But what exactly is to be done by office workers, bus drivers, and students?
And as for television, Americans don’t even want to stop. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released their American Time Use Study which reported that watching TV was the number one leisure activity of Americans, occupying 2.8 hours per day on average and about half of all leisure time for those age 15 and over.
We may want to sit less in theory, but it is probably going to be hard to juggle our dinner plate and the remote while we watch the Voice, in which our judges are perched in their swiveling chairs. And seriously, I can just imagine most of us thinking: “1.4 years more of life or enjoying this Giants v. Dodgers home stand for 12 hours of couch time? Screw it—Play Ball!” In fact this reminds me of old Dennis Leary comedy routine where he talks about the downside to living longer by quitting smoking because the later years aren’t worth living. “Smoking takes ten years off your life. Well it’s the ten worst years, isn’t it folks? It’s the ones at the end! It’s the wheelchair, kidney dialysis, adult diaper years. You can have those years! We don’t want ‘em, alright?”
Our TV watching experience even reinforces our behavior subliminally by giving us such iconic figures as Archie Bunker in his Barcalounger, James T. Kirk in his captain’s chair and the Simpsons on their TV couch, featured in every single episode. Want a modern day example? I submit to you the Iron Chair of Game of Thrones, which you can even buy for $30,000 if you want it to be your ideal TV-watching perch.
American consumers spend billions of dollars on gym memberships, organic food, life-extending medical technologies and vitamins & supplements in order to extend our lives, but it turns out that we can get an easy and free 2-3 years of extended life just by getting off our butts, turning off the TV and doing damn near anything else. As Clint Eastwood once said in A Fistful of Dollars, “Now get moving.”