Is Sitting the New Smoking?
Looking back on our evolutionary history, most of our activities revolved around survival, i.e. hunting and gathering food, or running from predators.
We spent the majority of our time outside performing physically oriented tasks and getting exposure to the sun and fresh air.
Living life was essentially a workout.
Today, with the comforts of technology, most people spend the majority of their time indoors, sitting at a computer or performing some sort of job that is primarily automated.
In fact, most adults in the US are sedentary for about 60% of their waking hours and sit for six hours per day (or more). Too much sitting is associated with a number of unhealthy conditions, such as: weight gain, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
In addition, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.
Research has shown that sitting/being sedentary can:
- Decrease the activity of lipoprotein lipase, a fat burning enzyme
- Increase your risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome
- Decrease bone mineral density
- Increase blood pressure
- Causes “gluteal amnesia” resulting in low back and hip pain
- Shorten your life
- Results in nearly 50% increased risk in death from any cause
Does exercise offset the adverse effects of sitting?
Regardless of how much exercise you are doing, if you sit for prolonged periods of time, you are still at risk. Don’t assume that exercise negates or protects the harmful effects of too much sitting.
What are some solutions?
In general, I recommend standing or walking for at least 50 percent of the day, and not sitting for more than two hours at a time without taking a short standing or walking break.
If your work involves sitting for long periods, here are some recommendations:
- Get a sit/stand work station. Many employers will accommodate employees with a prescription from a physician
- Use a treadmill desk
- Take frequent standing, light stretching or walking breaks, at least two minutes every hour
- Stand up at meetings
- Sit on a stability ball for part of the day
- Go for walks at lunch and breaks
- NEAT- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, e.g. Talking with your hands and your body, foot tapping, tapping your hand or fingers on a table and hair twirling all burn calories. Fidgeting and gesturing can burn as many as 350 extra calories per day, which could add up to 36 pounds lost per year!