Along with our resolve to get healthy, exercise, and eat better in 2014, we need to take a look at how we spend the better part of our day. Unless you have a physically active job, chances are you are sitting most of the time which, according to numerous studies, is actually shortening your lifespan. The majority of us, whether we are a student, an office worker, an executive or a bus driver, spend the bulk of our time sitting, equal to 10 or more hours daily, and only 3 hours standing or actively moving. If you think your health is protected because you exercise daily or several times a week, think again. One hour of daily, moderate intensity exercise may not negate the health hazards of inactivity, particularly if the balance of your day is sedentary.
The human body is simply not built to sit for long periods of time. We sit at school and at work, we sit while we drive, while we study, read or watch TV, and while we’re on the phone or the computer. When we sit, our bodies go into shutdown mode almost immediately. Sitting expends no energy – our muscles don’t contract, our circulation slows, insulin effectiveness drops and our brain function and metabolism slow down. Studies show that people who sit too much have less desirable cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and waist size, all of which increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.
Worst of all, it’s a formula for cutting years off your lifespan.
A 13 year American Cancer Society study showed that inactive women who sat for more than 6 hours a day were 94% more likely to die during the period of time studied than physically active women who sat for less than 3 hours per day. The sedentary men were 48% more likely to die during the study than the men who spent more time standing than sitting. Numerous studies support the findings that the more people sit, the shorter their lifespan.
The funny thing is, most of us dislike sitting so much that 30% of us would rather go without coffee for a week and 53% would rather stand at work than do 30 minutes of cardio daily. Yet, while 67% of Americans say they hate sitting, 86% of us sit all day at work and then go home and sit some more. And because Americans are becoming increasingly aware that prolonged sitting is hazardous to our health, 96% say they would be willing to spend more time standing to improve their health and life expectancy.
Why is prolonged sitting considered a health risk?
We store more fat. Lipase is an enzyme that enables the body to break down fats and increase cell permeability, aiding cell nutrient absorption. When we sit, lipase shuts down and the fats recirculate in the blood stream until they are stored as body fat or cause plaque buildup.
It can damage your organs. During periods of prolonged sitting, muscles don’t burn fat and blood flow decreases, allowing blood lipids to more easily clog arteries and the heart. People with the most sedentary lifestyles are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease compared to those who sit the least and are 54% more likely to die from a heart attack.
It increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. When muscles are inactive, they don’t readily respond to insulin and, as a result, the pancreas increasingly produces more insulin which can lead to insulin resistance, obesity and other metabolic factors.
It can slow brain function. When muscles are active, nutrient rich oxygenated blood is pumped continually to the brain, which triggers the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. There is a strong association between high energy output and cognitive function. Our sedentary lifestyles not only cause our waistlines to grow, it causes our brain cells to shrink. A body in motion keeps our brains healthy and our minds strong.
It can lead to poor circulation in the legs. When blood circulation slows, fluid can pool in the legs, which can increase the risk of swelling, clotting and varicose veins.
It can contribute to osteoporosis. Bones need weight-bearing activities such as running or walking in order to grow denser and stronger. Lack of activity is believed to contribute to a higher risk of bone disease whereby bones weaken, become fragile and more prone to breakage.
It leads to poor posture, an inflexible spine and neck and back problems. If you are sitting too much and are not sitting correctly, unused muscles can become weak and tight, limiting range of motion and strength. Sitting too long compresses the discs in our spines causing a great risk for back, neck or shoulder pain and herniated discs.
What can you do?
- Sit correctly. Keep your spine straight, don’t lean forward or back, relax your shoulders and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Consider strengthening your core and improving your balance and flexibility by sitting on an exercise ball instead of a desk chair for all or part of the day.
- Take frequent mini-breaks. Be as active as you can as often as you can. That means get up, move at least once an hour even if only for a minute or two.
- Given a choice of sitting or standing, choose to stand as often as possible. If you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day even better.
- Find more reasons to be active in the evenings. If you really want to watch that game, be active while you do it. Move about, stretch side to side, march in place. Frequent simple activity can help lower blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol and your waistline.