South San Francisco, CA June 15, 2018 Guest Article By John Roark, ManRevived.com
Take just a moment to think of our modern lifestyle and all the privileges afforded to us. Incredible advancements in hygiene and health care, improved work conditions (no more getting mangled in a giant factory machine after a 16 hour shift, usually), all the information you could ever want at your fingertips, and the free time to do literally anything you want to do.
It is absolutely amazing.
But we often take it for granted, which means we’re not as mindful about our lifestyle since everything moves at such a fast pace.
And that lack of mindfulness could be killing us, specifically because it means we’re sitting down for way too long throughout the day just based on the lifestyle many of us now lead.
Modern humans are more sedentary than ever before. This lack of activity has already put its stamp on society with an increase in obesity and weight-related problems.
But did you know that sitting is so bad for you, doctors use it as a risk factor in diagnosing diseases, just like they do for smoking?
Sitting Is The New Smoking
Children learn to stay seated as soon as they start elementary school. This continues on until they graduate. Once graduated, most jobs and positions in the West require you to sit all day. An office worker might spend 6+ hours of their 8-hour work day sitting.
Besides work, driving in the car, eating, working on a computer, and watching TV are all done sitting down. All this can sum up to a total of 12 hours or more in a single day!
Sitting has reached such disturbing heights and the health consequences are so significant that some people are calling sitting the new smoking.
Why Is Sitting So Bad For You?
The human body is not biologically wired to sit or stand in one place for long periods of time. The pressure applied to the spine while sitting can cause it to distort its original form. The spine holds the nerve endings for each organ, and when the spine is pressed down on, these nerve endings can be pinched and lead to pain. This takes a toll on all the internal organs as a result.
The constricted space and blood flow towards the different organs in the body prevents them from receiving the nutrients and oxygen that they require for optimal functioning.
The internal pressure makes the heart pump with a greater force in order to supply blood to the legs and all the organs. Therefore, it is no surprise that the heart is most affected by sitting.
Research shows that sitting increases cardiovascular disease and can increase your risk of early death by 12-40%. In fact, those who sit the most (more than 13 hours/day) are have a 200% higher risk of dying than people who sit 11 hours or less per day. That’s not a huge time difference, but it’s obvious the effects are pronounced the more you sit.
Sitting also makes you fat and gives you diabetes. Sitting motionless burns fewer calories than moving around, so even if you eat exactly the same as someone who sits less than you, you’ll be the one gaining more weight. Sedentary workers have twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
And the effects of sitting start off as soon as you hit the chair. The electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts down. The calorie burning halts to a single burned calorie per minute. The enzymes produced by the pancreas for fat break-down decrease by 90%. The good cholesterol in the blood decreases after 2 hours of prolonged sitting. The insulin that is also produced in the pancreas drops down, and sugar levels in the blood spike.
Oh, and don’t forget the increased cancer risk. Up to 66% greater risk if you sit a lot.
Before we get to how to solve these nasty problems, I know what you’re probably thinking. You might think that all you need to do is keep hitting the gym and you’ll be alright.
Unfortunately that’s not the case. Even exercise can’t offset the negative effects of sitting. They are significant and separate from your overall physical fitness, and research has shown hitting the gym more doesn’t stop the effects.
How To Stand Up To Sitting
Many activities do require that you are seated, so don’t think you need to quit your job and become a long distance runner just to stay healthy. Working on making small lifestyle changes is one way to tackle the problem, but the most basic intervention of all doesn’t require more than you setting a timer.
The most effective way to deal with the risks comes from a Columbia research scientist who works on this issue. He says, “For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and move/walk for five minutes at brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting.”
That could be as simple as setting a timer on your phone or computer that reminds you to stand up and move around for a couple of minutes.
You could take it a step further and be extra mindful about your body, and add in an extra timer once per day that gets you out of your seat for longer, in order to stimulate your leg muscles and burn a few extra calories that you’ll otherwise be gaining weight from at your chair.
Something like a walk around the block, or take advantage of some of the hundreds of miles of the SF Bay Trail for a lunchtime stroll.
But what about the time you actually spend working?
Well, a sit-stand desk is a great option to break up your day. You shouldn’t be standing all day, as that has similarly bad effects as sitting all day does, but if you can aim for working up to 2 or 4 hours per day standing, that’s a great way to get off your rear end while staying productive.
And now think back a little, to when you were a kid. What do young children do when they have to stay seated for long stretches of time? They start moving around and fidgeting.
Fidgeting is another way to cope with the stresses of prolonged sitting. Small fidgeting-like activities like tapping or swinging your legs while sitting increases energy expenditure by 25% to 100% (i.e., burns more calories).
Making Better Health Choices To Reduce Sitting
Sometimes sitting too much is our own choice. Typically, the most time spent sitting at home is in front of the TV.
But watching TV for more than 3 hours per day increases heart health risks by 64%. Strive to spend less than 3 hours per day in front of the TV. Not only will you improve your health, but you will also find more enriching and meaningful activities to spend time on.
And one more question, here. What position do you usually sit in? Hunched over? Back perfectly straight? The angle at which your body bends while sitting makes a difference.
When you can control it, sit at an angle of 135 degrees (leaned back a little). Get a reclining chair or place some pillows on your lower back when sitting on the couch. This position is much easier on your spine than slouching forward or sitting straight. Just don’t use it as an excuse to sit longer!
So get a sit-stand desk, fidget more, and make sure you get up to move every 30 minutes or so. Subtract a bit of TV from the equation, and you could literally be adding years to your life. Get mindful about what sitting does to your body, and take a stand against sitting!