The hustle of everyday life leaves us feeling like we’re constantly on the move. But, truth be told, we’re sitting through most of it, whether it’s while we’re travelling, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or (most importantly) working at our desks. And, if you’re the kind to get caught up in work and stay in your seat for too long, you might be causing harm to your health.
Numerous studies have pointed to the fact that prolonged sitting leads to a host of health disorders. And, in the age of “couch potatoes,” it’s important to understand this phenomena starting with what it means to lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Characteristics Of A Sedentary Lifestyle
A lot of us tend to confuse the term “sedentary” with “physically inactive.” Sedentary behavior involves little to no energy expenditure. And, sitting is the hallmark of a sedentary lifestyle. Hence, a few things that are associated with being sedentary include
- Sitting or lying down to watch television.
- Sitting or lying down to read, write, or study.
You’ll notice how seemingly “normal” things contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. In America, older women are believed to be sedentary for two-thirds of their waking hours. And, the time spent sitting along with the breaks taken through the day decreased with age.1
On the other hand, a physically inactive lifestyle would entail not getting enough exercise. Hence, even if you do tend to exercise every now and then, you might just be leading a sedentary lifestyle, prone to all the risks that sitting brings with it.2
Health Implications Of Prolonged Sitting
Leading a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to the risk of early death. This is claim is based on a recent study where researchers looked into the habits of 8,000 people around
- On an average, study participants spent 77% of their time sitting down, which accounts for about 12 hours in a day.
- By the end of the study, 340 people had died. It was concluded that the people who’d spent most of their time being sedentary were at greater risk of dying early, as compared to those who moved around more often.
- The amount of time spent being sedentary also accounted for the general health of the participants. The risk of health disorders was two times higher in people who’d stay inactive for 1–2 hours than those who took regular breaks.
Although this particular study couldn’t identify just why sitting is so bad for you, it
Sitting for too long leads to a decrease in the production of enzymes that burn fat by 90%. This slows down the body’s metabolism and negatively affects things like HDL (good cholesterol) levels in our bodies. And, this in turn, increases the risk of obesity, heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer.4 However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do to beat the effects of sitting (apart from quitting our 9–5, of course). Simple tweaks can cut down on the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.
Ways To Beat The Adverse Effects Of Sitting
Although we can’t change society’s design and make our jobs a lot more active, we can incorporate simple things into our lifestyle to reduce the harm that sitting causes. Here’s what you can do, starting tomorrow
- Exercise: At the moment, there’s very contradictory research around whether the benefits of exercise negate the adverse effects of sitting. But, moderate exercise for 60–75 minutes daily should reduce the effects of sitting.5
- Take Breaks: Break up your sitting time with short bouts of walking. Research indicates that doing this lowers blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels in overweight or obese adults. It is also believed to improve the function of blood vessels.6
- Schedule Outdoor “Walking” Meetings: Experts from Harvard University believe that shifting any meetings in cafes and restaurants to outdoors might reduce one’s sitting time drastically. This could include a walk in the park or a hiking trail. And, while this
- Reduce Your Time On The Couch: Since exercise alone might not be beneficial, reducing your time in front of the television is a good way to decrease your sitting time. You could start off by limiting yourself to 2 hours of television a day and spending the remaining time walking or playing a sport outdoors.8
An easy way to remind yourself of these benefits is to incorporate it into a weight loss or fitness regime. Hence, the fact that standing burns 30% more calories than running should be a good incentive.
It’s easy to find yourself sitting more often than not. The world seems to be built for it, what with benches in parks, seats at bus stands, and even chairs around most pools. And,
|↑1, ↑6||Why sitting may be hazardous to your health. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑2||Sedentary Behaviour. Australian Government Department Of Health.|
|↑3||Diaz, Keith M., Virginia J. Howard, Brent Hutto, Natalie Colabianchi, John E. Vena, Monika M. Safford, Steven N. Blair, and Steven P. Hooker. “Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in US Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A National Cohort Study.” Annals of Internal Medicine 167, no. 7 (2017): 465-475.|
|↑4, ↑7||Merchant, Nilofer. “Sitting is the smoking of our generation.” Harvard Business Review (2013).|
|↑5||Too much sitting linked to an early death. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑8||Owen, Neville, Geneviève N. Healy, Charles E. Matthews, and David W. Dunstan. “Too much sitting: the population-health science of sedentary behavior.” Exercise and sport sciences reviews 38, no. 3 (2010): 105.|