The Curious Case of the Active Couch Potato

Exercise is good for you. Sitting too much is bad for you. There’s nothing new there.

But what about those of us who exercise a lot — and sit a lot?

Let’s say you run 3–5 days a week, 30 minutes–1 hour each time. Perhaps you do some strength training or yoga a few days a week as well. You clearly meet — even exceed — any guidelines for physical activity. But then, you spend most of your other waking hours sitting down at work, on your commute, on your couch after work, you name it.

If this sounds familiar, you just may be an “active couch potato” — a term that refers to people who get their recommended physical activity, but spend a lot of time sitting, usually because they have sedentary jobs.


Sitting too much comes with several risk factors, says Matthew P. Buman, PhD, and associate professor of exercise science at Arizona State University. “Evidence has emerged that sitting does have an independent risk on many health outcomes,” he says. This includes a higher risk for diabetes, a premature death risk and musculoskeletal problems.

What’s interesting is the risk may be independent of how much exercise you get. “People who sit for long periods of time, defined as sitting for 30–60 minutes without stopping, may be at greater risk for a poor health outcome,”  Buman says.


A Lancet study from last year looked at a million people, trying to clarify this risk. “They found that if you are an avid exerciser, the risk for premature death because of too much sitting is quite low,” Buman says. He defines avid as double the 150 minutes/week recommendation, so 300 minutes a week, or almost an hour a day. “But even moderate exercisers have an increased risk. And if you don’t exercise at all, you definitely have a risk.”


Even for those of us who run regularly and rack up the mileage, there is an opportunity to reduce how much we sit. The most harmful type of sitting is the prolonged type, like a cross-country airplane ride. “Sitting for five hours straight appears to be worse than sitting all day long, but getting up and down frequently,” Buman says.

Tips to help you reduce your sitting time throughout the day include:

  • Use a sit/stand desk, which allows you to work sitting or standing. “These types of desks have shown some results in studies. Standing 70 minutes per eight-hour workday may have an impact on overall health,” Buman says.
  • Set reminders on your phone to get up and move around at regular intervals. “It may seem like wasted time to take a lap around the office, but it will make you more productive in the end,” he advises.
  • Take public transportation. “Research shows that people who take public transportation tend to sit less. They may be sitting on the bus, but often have to walk to and from the bus or train.”


The advice Buman likes best is to think of your day as a pie chart. One-third of the time is sleep. That still leaves 2/3 of your day. Of those 16 hours, exercise may only represent a tiny sliver. “If you think about the whole day, the period you consider opportunity for exercise is relatively small. You get in 30 minutes to an hour, but what about rest of day?” Buman says.

It doesn’t necessarily mean exercising more. Rather, it’s about sitting less during the rest of the day, he says. “By moving the dial a little bit, we may be making an impact on our health.”

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How to Be Active in the Sun and Be Good to Your Skin

At races, you see triathletes quickly spray on sunscreen — even passing the bottle around because so many competitors forgot to bring their own. During the race, few athletes take the time to reapply sunscreen (the race clock is ticking after all). So why does protecting our skin from the sun often remain nothing more than afterthought, especially when doing so can have such a significant impact on our future health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2016 Skin Cancer Prevention Progress Report, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. — melanoma causes more deaths than any other type of skin cancer; and unlike other cancers, skin cancer rates continue to rise. These statistics are worsened by the fact that most cases are preventable—the CDC reports that more than a quarter of women and one-third of men do not consistently use sun protection.

For those athletes who fail in safeguarding their skin from damaging ultraviolet rays, Allison Arthur, MD, FAAD, of Sand Lake Dermatology Center in Orlando, Florida provides her sun safety tips:

  • Sunscreens that contain physical blockers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are effective as soon as they are applied to the skin. Chemical sunscreens like avobenzone and octinoxate need to be absorbed before they become effective. You should apply these sunscreens 15 minutes before going outside.
  • The biggest mistake I see with sunscreen is a lack of reapplication. People put on sunscreen in the morning and get a false sense of security, assuming they are protected for the day. Under normal circumstances, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours. For athletes who are swimming or perspiring heavily, more frequent application is needed. Ideally, triathletes should reapply at transition points.
  • Using Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) 50+ clothing, sleeves, and hats can offer additional protection.
  • People should be diligent in their application efforts. A common mistake is forgetting to apply sunscreen to areas like the back of the neck, ears, hands and tops of the feet.


For those who participate in triathlon or running groups, you could help make applying sunscreen a habit among fellow athletes:

  • Ask everyone to purchase a travel-size sunscreen bottle that they can carry with them while they run or cycle.
  • Start each training session having all group members apply sunscreen.
  • Take short sunscreen-reapplication breaks every two hours.
  • If your group has a sag wagon or aid station during long training sessions, have a bottle of sunscreen available for athletes.


In addition to applying sunscreen, Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, recommends performing a self-skin exam once a month to look for new or changing moles using this ABCDE method:


If the mole doesn’t look perfectly round or oval, or you can’t draw a line through it to have two mirror images of each other, have it checked out.


If the edges of the mole are not smooth, but appear more jagged or smudged or have irregular “bites” in it or new “feet” or bumps sticking out, have it checked out.


If the color of your mole is changing, if it is darker or a different color than all of your other moles, or if there are new mixes of colors, including light brown, dark brown, black, blue, gray, white, pink or red, it should be checked out.


If the size of your mole is six millimeters or greater, otherwise known as the size of a pencil eraser, consider having it checked out because melanoma may be more likely to develop in larger lesions. However, melanomas can also be tiny, so it is important to show any new mole or changing mole whatever the size, to your dermatologist.


This is probably the most important feature to consider. If any mole that you remember having is changing or “evolving” at all, have it checked out by a dermatologist.

in protecting yourself from the sun is even more important that monitoring your stats, getting in that long run and keeping your gear in tip-top shape. Your skin will be with you a lot longer than your bike or PR.

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How to Stay Active Through Any Challenge

Staying committed to an exercise program is hard enough on a good day. But when life throws you a curveball, your workout can easily fall on the priority list — if it’s still included at all.

Health and fitness is truly a personal pursuit, but the most common keys to success include realistic expectations, a little flexibility and a positive attitude. It might not be easy or fun, but when you achieve what you set out to do, it’s all worth it.

Whether you’re trying to maintain your fitness level through an injury…

Braving frigid temperatures …

Or trying not to sweat through your clothes in the scorching sun…

We rounded up our best tips for sticking to your fitness routine, no matter what difficulties you encounter. Nothing should hold you back from achieving your goals, and we’re here to help you overcome any obstacle in your way.

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7 Pro Tips for Making Your Work Day More Active

Staying active during the workday can be a challenge for people who sit at a desk all day. This is especially true on days when you’re so busy it feels like there’s rarely an opportunity to look away from your computer, much less get up and move around.

Luckily, there are many ways to stay active in the office, even if you can’t manage to leave your desk. Check out these stretching and movement ideas from ergonomic pros, fitness experts and health advocates:


Add extra resistance to your movement, turning that quick walk from your desk to your printer into an opportunity to tone and burn. You can wear discreet ankle weights or body weights.”

– Frank Yao, co-founder and CEO of Physiclo


Challenge yourself to drink 10, 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day. Not only will you have to continually get up and refill your water, you’ll need to head to the bathroom, too. Added bonus: Drinking water is great for you, so you’re kind of winning on all fronts.”

– Amina AlTai, owner of Busy Happy Healthy

To make it easy to track your water intake, log it with MyFitnessPal.


“The best way to start keeping yourself more accountable for your activity level is to get an activity tracker. You can set your tracker to vibrate on your wrist to remind you that you’ve been sitting too long and it is time to get up and move.”

– Mandy McClellan, accessories buyer for Fit2Run, The Runner’s Superstore


“Visit a colleague’s desk to deliver a message instead of sending an email. The trip will get you out of your desk chair and give you a fun, social reason to walk around the office. Plus, you’ll get the added bonus of some face time with a colleague, who will also appreciate the break from emails!”

– Eve Martin, CEO and founder of Elm Tree Medical Inc.


“Cut off taking advantage of workplace supplies at noon so you have to leave [the office] and go get a snack or coffee from somewhere further away from your workstation.”

– Katie Johnson, outreach and PR Strategist for


“Remember, we are trying to replicate the experience of working in the fields or factory without all the heavy lifting and sweating. If you have an adjustable desk, you can listen to your body and you can move periodically throughout the day. You now have the freedom to move when it is convenient and when your body tells you that you need to.

“Stand for a few minutes when you get to your desk after a long commute. Stand while you take a phone call. Stand after lunch to help maintain your focus and avoid the afternoon crash. Stand when your back feels a little tight or your neck is stiff. Adjustments give you freedom and that is good for your body and your mind!”

– What You Should Know Before You Take a Stand, Workrite


Try this desk workout from Meghan Kennihan, NASM personal trainer.

  1. Desk pushups offer great for toning the arms. Place your hands on your desk, walk your feet back to a 45-degree angle and do 10–15 pushups.
  2. Shoulder squeezes helps prevent a hunched posture. Pretend there’s a pencil between your shoulder blades, squeeze them together and hold for 10–20 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Sit and stands tones your legs and butt. Stand in front of your chair and lower yourself down until your butt hits the edge of the chair and stand back up (make sure your chair is secure). Repeat 20 times.
  4. Desk dips are perfect for toning your triceps. Face away from your desk and place your hands shoulder-width apart with fingers facing you, legs extended. Dip down until your elbows make a 90-degree angle; press back up 10–15 times.
  5. Wall Sit: Stand against the wall and slide down until your knees are at a 90-degree angle directly over your ankles. Hold for 30–60 seconds and repeat 5 times.

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