I’ve been reading a book by Selene Yeager called “Bike Your Butt Off!” In it, she mentions “inactivity research”, which I’d never heard of before. Turns out, it means research into how much people are sitting during the course of the day and its effects on their health. Yeager says that people have become so sedentary that they actually spend 8 hours a day – or 56 hours a week – sitting down.
Even I know that can’t be good, so I decided to do a little research of my own.
Here’s what I found out:
Apparently, this sitting epidemic has a lot of serious consequences! According to the World Health Organisation, inactivity is one of the world's leading causes of death.
Researchers have discovered that if you sit too much, you raise your risk of heart failure EVEN IF you exercise regularly. Furthermore, sitting has a “dose factor” which means that the more you sit, the worse the effect on your body and health.
Just standing up from a seated position is effective at counteracting the detrimental effects of sitting. They actually did research on this and found that the MINIMUM number of times you have to stand from a sit to counteract the cardiovascular health risks of sitting too much is about 35 times a day. Squats anyone?
There is evidence that standing and walking for 2 minutes, every 20 minutes improves the body’s insulin response after a meal by 23%.
One researcher analyzed the data for 18 different studies and discovered that people who sat longest were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease compared to those who sat the least.
Researchers even identify sitting too much as “a modifiable risk factor” for some forms of cancer, like smoking and sun bathing!
An Australian study found that people who spent more time on their feet and moving during the week, had lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol. Australia is the first country to have specific recommendation as to how much you should stand and how to fit it in.
According to Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, director of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic, “The reason [standing could be good} is because, when we stand, there are many muscles in our legs and butt and abdomen that are working to keep you standing. Whenever muscle is used, it consumes sugar and affects triglycerides,” which could, in turn lower cholesterol.
Not surprisingly, the negative effects of sitting too much are multiplied if you have other risk factors such as obesity or unhealthy behaviors like smoking or drinking too much alcohol.
In short, sitting too much can kill you!
How does this happen?
As soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your muscles slows down and calorie burning drops to 1 calorie per minute (which is about 1/3 of the calorie burn when you walk).
If you sat for a full 24 hours, you would experience a 40% reduction in glucose uptake in insulin.
After 2 weeks of sitting for more than 6 hours a day:
Plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules), LDL (bad) cholesterol, and insulin resistance increase;
Your muscles are taking in fat & blood sugar levels go up, increasing risk of weight gain;
Muscles start to atrophy;
Maximum oxygen consumption drops;
Stairs become harder to climb and it’s even harder to take a walk.
After a year of sitting more than 6 hours a day, there is often weight gain and problems with high cholesterol. Women can lose up to 1% of their bone mass a year.
After 20-2=30 years of sitting more than 6 hours a day:
You have decreased your number of quality adjusted life years by 7;
You have increased your risk of dying of heart disease by 64%;
You have increased your risk of prostate or breast cancer by 30%.
This is pretty scary stuff because of an activity most people consider relatively safe -- sitting on our butts, not even moving around.
How ironic! While we (our culture and science) were busy making things easier and more efficient (think t.v. remotes, cell phones, text messages, email, riding lawn mowers, etc.), we were also making ourselves more prone to illness and even death.
Not to worry.
Based on what I read, this is something that's relatively easy to change, as long as we make a commitment to doing it. And it won't even take a lot of time or effort. To combat the "sitting too long will kill you syndrome" all we have to do is stand up more frequently and move a little.
One article I read recommended getting up 4 times every hour or every 15 minutes. They even suggested using an alarm to remind yourself to get off your duff. I'm not sure how feasible this is for people who work in an office environment, but I'm retired, so it should be a piece of cake for me.
How about this tidbit? Every time you stand up you give your body a “gravitational stimulus”. NASA has studied the effects of weightlessness (no gravity) and found that lack of gravity actually causes cells of muscle and bone to begin to breakdown. Gravity, and working against it by standing, helps them to remain strong. Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, says that research suggests that 32 transitions from sitting to standing during the course of a day helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Ready for more squats?
Here are even more ways to increase movement during the day:
Stop texting the person in the next room, whether in the office or at home. Get up and go speak with them.
Set up your work space so that fewer things are within arm’s reach, which will force you to get up more often.
Walk/pace whenever you’re on the phone.
If possible, use a standing desk at work.
Take a 2-minute walk every hour (maybe to go to the bathroom or get something to drink, if you're at work). The Fitbit app tracks how many times in an 8-hour day, using hour increments, you get up and move at least 250 steps, which is about what most people walk in 2 minutes. So using that feature may be a good way to remind yourself to get more movement throughout the day.
Americans spend about 5 hours a day watching tv. Stand up to watch or at least stand during commercials, maybe even march in place or do lunges or toe touches or wall push-ups or something.
Wander around your home/office and straighten up or declutter for a couple of minutes a day. I don’t know about you, but my outlook is always better when my environment is less cluttered.
Do some stretches. Here are a few I used in one of the trainings I presented while I was still working.
Everyone knows the “park further away from . . . “ trick to add in some movement during the day. That goes right along with, “take the stairs” instead of the elevator or escalator.
Keep a “to do” list nearby – maybe on your cell phone – and, whenever a commercial comes on, do something on the list. Maybe take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, put the laundry away, . . . whatever.
If you play video games, games on the computer, or spend a lot of time on social media, build in breaks where you get up and stretch or move around. It could be after every game/match, after you’ve finished posting to your Sparkteams, or after you write your blog.
Or, if you’re a reader, take a movement break after every chapter.
Since you can't completely avoid sitting, even for prolonged periods at times, it’s important to sit with proper posture when you do because slouching can impede the functioning of your vital organs and block proper blood circulation. When I worked, I trained my agency’s staff in back safety and this was one of the things we talked about. To sit with proper posture, your butt should be sticking out a bit, toward the back of your seat, maintaining the natural “S curve” of your spine.
Finally, no matter how many times during the day that you get up from your chair and enjoy short little, low-intensity movement breaks, they do NOT replace regular exercise.
Now, you'll have to excuse me. I've been sitting here too long already and I need to go walk for about 2 minutes.