If you think sitting down can’t be a bad thing, you’re not alone. Most of us think sitting is fine, especially if you compensate with some power workouts a few times a week. But sitting for long spells ranks up there with other health risks of the modern sedentary lifestyle. Then again, do you really spend that much time sitting? In a word – yes. According to one report, half of the time you are awake is spent in largely inactive states, yes, sitting. Whether it is in front of a computer at work, behind your desk, on the couch in the living room, on the bus, train, or car to work, or while eating, there’s so much you do sitting without even realizing it.1
Over the past few years, articles about the dangers of sitting have made frequent appearances in the mainstream media. Some even suggest that sitting could be more harmful than smoking.2 So what happens to your body when you sit too much, cutting back on “active” pursuits and moving less?
Mortality And Sitting
One extensive study of men and women over a 14-year period found that those who spent over six hours daily sitting died sooner than those who sat no more than three hours a day. At the beginning of the research study, everyone was in normal health. However, when reviewed after 14 years, those who sat more had a markedly higher rate of mortality. What was even more sobering was that this association between mortality and sitting was not influenced by physical activity levels when not sitting. So someone who was relatively more active in the non-sitting time, compared with another person who remained far less active when they weren’t sitting, could potentially have a similar mortality risk if they both spent, for instance, about eight to ten hours sitting.3
Matters Of The Heart
Cardiovascular health too takes a beating when you spend very long hours sitting. Experts from the American Heart Association explain that while getting in your weekly quota of physical exercise is great, that isn’t enough if you overlook the time spent not moving. This “non-moving” or sitting time is essentially what is more crucial to cardiovascular health.4
Fat And Sugar Metabolism
A predominantly sedentary day can take its toll on the ability of your body to metabolize fat and sugar normally. This in turn could also increase your diabetes risk.5 Compounding the problem is the lower quantum of calories burnt when you are sitting compared to standing. By some estimates, you burn as much as 30 percent more calories if you are standing up instead of sitting. So, many hours of sitting may also cause you to pack on the pounds and put you at increased risk of metabolic syndrome if you are overweight.6
Cancers of the colon, lung, and endometrium are linked to sedentary habits. One study of 4 million people found that those who sat for a long time, including people who were otherwise physically active, increased their risk of developing these cancers. And the more you sit, the worse it gets. As the researchers discovered, risk escalated with every two hours of time spent sitting.7
How Do You Sit Less, Move More?
It may not just be about how much you sit, but how often you take breaks from sitting and work some movement into your regimen. A panel of experts even put together “Guidelines for Sitting” which suggest you try and ensure between two and four hours of light activity or standing through your day at work.8 Here are some ways to work this into your day.
- If you have a desk job that’s quite sedentary, trying to be active for two whole hours in your work day may seem impossible. So work toward it bit by bit.
- Once you manage two hours of movement, build up to four.
- See how you can work some short walks around your office or stretches right there at your desk into your schedule.
- Avoid sitting during your coffee break. Try and walk around while you sip.
- Take phone calls on the move, pacing around or walking up and down while you do a longer call that doesn’t need access to your computer.
- Consider a sit–stand desk if you can manage one.
In addition to these pointers, if you are a homemaker, student, or retiree, you may want to consider setting an alarm that reminds you to get up and walk around every now and then. Schedule in some active time in your day – it doesn’t have to be highly physically demanding. The idea is to just keep moving.
|↑1||Biswas, Aviroop, Paul I. Oh, Guy E. Faulkner, Ravi R. Bajaj, Michael A. Silver, Marc S. Mitchell, and David A. Alter. “Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Annals of Internal Medicine 162, no. 2 (2015): 123-132.|
|↑2||‘Get Up!’ or lose hours of your life every day, scientist says, LA Times.|
|↑3||Patel, Alpa V., Leslie Bernstein, Anusila Deka, Heather Spencer Feigelson, Peter T. Campbell, Susan M. Gapstur, Graham A. Colditz, and Michael J. Thun. “Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults.” American journal of epidemiology 172, no. 4 (2010): 419-429.|
|↑4||Young, Deborah Rohm, Marie-France Hivert, Sofiya Alhassan, Sarah M. Camhi, Jane F. Ferguson, Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Cora E. Lewis et al. “Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality.” Circulation (2016): CIR-0000000000000440.|
|↑5||Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death, Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑6||What Is Metabolic Syndrome? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.|
|↑7||Schmid, Daniela, and Michael F. Leitzmann. “Sedentary behavior increases the risk of certain cancers, Regensburg.” Journal of National Cancer Institute (2014).|
|↑8||Buckley, John P., Alan Hedge, Thomas Yates, Robert J. Copeland, Michael Loosemore, Mark Hamer, Gavin Bradley, and David W. Dunstan. “The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company.” British journal of sports medicine (2015): bjsports-2015.|