Unless you have an active job, it’s likely you spend the majority of your time sitting while at work. The numbers vary, but even those who report getting up and moving regularly at work average around 6 sitting hours daily, while others may range up to 10 hours.
Then, if you’re like most people in the western world, you very likely head home and sit down on the couch to relax for a little while after work. Fair enough.
Before long it’s time for dinner, and of course that’s perfectly reasonable to sit down and enjoy. After that, it’s usually back to the couch for some online reading or catching up on your favorite series, which (obviously) is done from a seated position. You get the idea.
If this all sounds familiar, however, it means you may be at risk for what’s begun to be called “Sitting Disease” …
It’s a new name for an old habit, but recent research (source) is indicating it may be a significant factor leading you towards some potentially serious health risks such as heart disease and diabetes.
Sitting vs. Standing
For many years, medical professionals have known living a healthy, active lifestyle is essential for your health and longevity. Exercise has always been part of that equation, and as a result many people devote several days a week to exercising. If you can count yourself among those exercisers, then you should definitely be proud and keep up the good work…
On the other hand, you may also think that in your case prolonged sitting doesn’t really matter.
Not so fast – for better or for worse, new research has shown that even avid exercisers are at risk for health issues due to prolonged sitting.
Admittedly, this has come as a surprise even in the medical world, where the experts really did believe exercising 3-5 days per week for 30 minutes could counteract all the elements of a sedentary lifestyle. For what it’s worth, that exercise certainly does help, so please don’t quit the gym quite yet!
It’s just that more recent research has suggested living a healthy and mostly upright lifestyle is also a key component to better health.
Simply put, the less you sit, the healthier you are.
The New Smoking
You may have heard the phrase on TV, or from one of your health-conscious coworkers…
“Sitting is the New Smoking…”
It grabs your attention, for sure.
But is it really true?
We would say you’d better sit down for this, but…
New research shows that prolonged sitting – even in avid exercisers – makes a very similar contribution to mortality rates as smoking. Prolonged sitting can increase risk for all-cause mortality by 50% and unfortunately, the less you exercise, the greater this risk becomes (source).
During the workday, statistics suggest that it’s all too easy to be seated for 8-10 hours per day. Add this to the relaxation and mealtimes above, and we see where it quickly runs to a substantial sum. Even on the weekends, you probably sit more than you think – most studies place weekend sitting time at 8 hours daily.
Again, we’re talking about an old habit, and just as we’ve seen with smoking over the last couple of decades, such habits can be hard to break. The reason prolonged sitting poses such a risk, however, dates much further back.
Meant for Motion
Why does sitting increase your mortality risk so much? Well, the answer is simple.
You were made to move.
The human body was designed to stand up, walk, and run. If you think back to pre-historic times, most all of us lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers. On average, we covered between 4 and 10 miles (6-16km) daily in the search for food, shelter and avoiding predators.
This is where we came from – and thankfully, it’s not where we’ve remained – but all of us still carry that ancient physiology. While we appreciate the value and comfort that modern conveniences provide, it’s time to recognize they make a pretty poor fit for our fundamental health heredity.
When your body begins to move, you start to utilize stored energy. Your entire system becomes activated over the course of a few seconds…
The cellular system that keeps your body healthy turns everything on, immediately accessing glucose, triglycerides, and fat throughout your body to produce the energy it needs to produce and maintain motion. You become primed, and in a very primal sense.
As your motion continues, your body begins to utilize insulin to turn glucose and fat into energy, and the cells in your muscles and organs up-regulate their activity, becoming healthier and stronger. They more efficiently metabolize the energy in the food you eat and continue their operations at optimal levels.
When you remain sedentary for too long, however, your physiology does the same – it comes to a screeching halt. First, your cells slow down individually level, and from there all metabolic processes begin to down-regulate. The fuel you’d been burning through cools down and lays idle…
This “screeching halt”, unfortunately, is where many of us end up spending most of our lives. It’s where elevated blood sugar, triglycerides and blood pressure come from – and diabetes, heart disease and other life-compromising ailments.
It’s what we have to move against.
How to Take Your Stand
If you’re someone who lives a mostly sedentary lifestyle, incorporate a little more time upright into your work day and a few active hours into your time away from work. This small change can greatly increase your lifespan and health. It’s also not going to require an immediate jump to 10-mile walks…
Instead, alternate hours standing with hours sitting at work, or alternating at 30-minute intervals.
If that doesn’t seem viable, leave your desk for an “Office Lap” every hour, or extend your bathroom breaks to include movement. Even standing up for a good solid stretch once an hour can be a start…
Modern conveniences can help.If your job calls for a lot of phone time, consider a Bluetooth component that permits you to stand freely and move around. A Standing Desk can easily be improvised, and there are models available that include their own timer.
You can play this new, healthy habit any way you like.
Do it your way, but please: do it.
By incorporating more steps into your day and sticking with a regular exercise routine, you can decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions…
It’s a stand well worth taking!