Why sitting is slowly killing you and what you can do about it

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin.

One of your favourite activities may actually be killing you. Modern televisions, computers, and automobiles have forced people to spend far longer sitting down than standing up. More than one-half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary.

For some time, scientists have warned us of the risks of sitting too much, but lately the news seems to get and more dire sounding. One professor has even worked out from statistical analysis that chairs kill more people than smoking!

It’s not entirely our fault. As we moved from an active, agricultural lifestyle to one of offices and automated transport, every aspect of our day has been adapted with one priority in mind: our comfort. Typically, we now sit for 13 hours a day, sleep for 8 and move for just 3. This is not what our bodies were designed to do.

“Sitting is so incredibly prevalent that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not OK.” – Nilofer Merchant at TED 2013

It’s pretty crazy to see the numbers on the damage sitting does.

  • As soon as you start sitting, electrical activity in your muscles drops significantly and your calorie burning rate reduces to 1 calorie per minute. This is about a third of what it does if you’re walking.
  • After just 3 hours, there’s a 50% drop in your artery dilation and, as a result, a decrease in blood flow around your body. If you sit for 24 hours straight, the insulin in your body loses nearly 40% of its ability to uptake glucose, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • After 2 weeks of sitting for nearly 6 hours a day, your “bad” cholesterol increases and the enzymes responsible for breaking down fat decline. And research shows that even exercise can’t fully undo the damage on our body. Your muscles start to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption drops.
  • After a year of sitting an overage of 6 hours per day, the longer term health effects start manifesting. You may start to experience weight gain and high cholesterol. You will also be losing around 1% of your bone mass every year.

The most shocking part is that scientists estimate that if you spend 10 to 20 years sitting down for 6 hours a day, and lets face it – most of us are probably guilty of this, you may have lost up to 7 quality adjusted life years (years without medical issues or death).

Scary stuff…

Its probably not a good idea to watch this video sitting down…

 

These findings have been confirmed by numerous studies. For example, a 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology tracked 123,000 adults over 14 years and found that people who sat more than 6 hours a day had an 18% higher mortality rate than those whose daily chair time lasted for less than 3 hours. A subsequent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at nearly 70,000 cancer cases and found that sitting was associated with a 24% increased risk of colon cancer, a 32% increased risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21% increased risk of lung cancer.

There is a whole mini-industry dedicated to selling alternatives to sitting down. Standing desks, treadmill desks, exercise ball chairs – to name a few. Which is a good thing. But such measures might not be necessary to stave off the harmful effects of sitting.

Below are three practical changes you can make to counter the negative effects of sitting. And please do yourself a big favour. Try to get out of your chair now if you have not done so for the video.

Be aware of how much you are sitting. That way you can make a goal of reducing that number a little bit each week.
Stand up at least once an hour. Standing up and walking around for even two minutes every hour can help offset the life-shortening effects of sitting. With the advent of the Apple Watch, inactivity alerts are slowly becoming a standard feature in the latest generation of fitness wearables. If you are at work, you could try to make it a goal to stand up or walk around for a minute or two once every half an hour. If you watch TV in the evening, take time to walk around or at least stand up during commercial time.
Get about 30 minutes of activity every day. Researchers have found that people who exercise generally face lower risks of these health conditions than those who don’t exercise. People typically have a favorite type of exercise whether it be lifting weights, doing cardio, or participating in a class such as yoga or spin. Despite individual preferences, one thing that gym users have in common is their use of fitness technology. Mobile technology can help to keep you motivated, informed and it can provide you with a social aspect so that you can join a community focused around fitness goals.

Fortunately, the wiring system of the brain is capable of adapting substantially, even in adulthood. So even if you’ve spent most of your life in a chair, your brain will gradually start to change if you make these changes. It takes about 3 weeks for the brain to adapt to new stimulus. Which means that you can start to vastly improve your health in a relatively short period.

This beautiful infographic from Medical Billing and Coding explains the candid truth about the amount of time we all spend sitting on a daily basis.

truth-about-sitting-down-infographic

We hope this infographic has shed some light on your sitting habits. Share this post and spread the word by using the buttons below.

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