We have a tendency as a society to focus on individual activities, foods, trends, and fads as being either the cause of all disease or the cure. We forget that there are many contributors to the success or failure of our health. That being said, there is one thing worth noting that I believe is a major contributor to an overall decline in our health. That thing is sitting.
A study that made headlines in 2010, from American Cancer Society researchers, caught my attention. They found that more time spent sitting is linked to higher risk of death. What? Death? Now, we all knew that sitting could increase back aches, and that the inactivity can lead to weight gain, but we surely didn’t realize it was killing us.
A new study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that the more hours older women spent sitting, the greater their odds of dying early from all causes, including heart disease and cancer. Another recent analysis of 43 studies involving more than four million people found that increased sitting increased the risk of colon and lung cancers. Every additional hour of sitting added addition risk.
Many people have jobs that restrict them to a desk, forcing them to sit most of their work days. Many people also spend a great deal of time in their cars sitting. While it may seem impossible to avoid sitting, there are ways to reduce the number of hours in a chair, and there are things you can do to help offset some of the damaging effects of that sitting.
While they spend millions of dollars and countless hours trying to figure out why sitting is so bad, all you have to really know is that it is bad. Who cares why? It just is!
Obviously, there is less caloric burning going on when you sit, your posture is less optimal, and lower body circulation is affected with sitting, but the bottom line is that we require a certain amount of movement each day for optimal health. I like to look to our much healthier hunter-gatherer ancestors and to primitive tribes still in existence today for what behaviors are required for a truly healthy human. They walked an average of seven to ten miles per day.
When you move the joints in your body, positive signals are sent to your brain which then stimulates other pathways in your brain responsible for better learning, improved moods, more balanced hormones, increased immune function, and a whole host of other benefits. Many think that if we are not moving, then those good signals are not being sent, and that is why inactivity is so bad. It gets more complicated than that though. When you are sitting, not only are those positive signals not being sent, but negative signals are being sent. This is why you can sit all day long, expend no energy, yet be exhausted at the end of the day. If you get up and do some jumping jacks, take a brisk walk, and do a few push-ups, you sit back down feeling energized.
I also recommend drinking lots of water while at work. This forces you to have to go to the bathroom more, which forces you to get up more often. I would also set an alarm (some activity trackers have vibration reminders) every fifteen minutes that reminds you to get up and move. Take that brisk walk, do those jumping jacks, do some push-ups, or do anything that gets your body moving.
I have recently seen phenomenal changes in patients using those standing desks. Some work stations actually have treadmills built in. I found that I can walk about two and a half miles in an hour on our treadmill while checking emails, writing articles, or doing other computer work. The key is to combine frequent activity of some kind to break up those longer periods of sitting.
Sitting is bad for us. That is the bad news. The good news is that you can modify your day to limit the amount of sitting that occurs at one time. By doing so, you will burn more calories, feel more energetic, think more clearly, and reduce your risk of chronic disease.