The health perils of being sedentary have been known for decades. What’s come into sharper focus are the particular risks of a key part of the sedentary lifestyle. Sitting, we’re increasingly learning, is really bad for you, even if you exercise regularly. The topic is such an area of concern that health researchers have coined the phrase “inactivity physiology” for the study of this hallmark of modern life. Think about your typical day. You might drive to work, work at a desk for several hours, drive home, watch television, and pore over your phone. During those activities, and while eating, you’re probably sitting. One estimate has the average American sitting thirteen hours a day. Assuming eight hours in bed, this means spending more than 80 percent of your waking hours sitting.
Why Is Sitting Bad For Your Back?
The focus of most research on sitting is how it can be an independent risk factor for many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. That is, even when you account for other known risk factors, such as smoking, being overweight, or not exercising, the amount of time you sit can by itself make you more likely to have one of these conditions. To cite one of many examples: a study of more than 82,000 men grouped subjects by how much time outside work they watched television, sat at a computer, or read. Those who spent five or more hours per day in those sedentary activities were 34 percent more likely to have heart failure in an eight-year period than those who spent two or fewer hours per day in those ways. That being the case, it’s not surprising that excessive sitting has also been found to increase your risk for the worst condition of all—dying. Obviously, we’re all going to die. Also Read: Exercise for the cure of depression
Effects Of Excess Sitting
When health researchers say that something increases your mortality risk, they mean within a given time period. In the case of sitting, one large-scale study of people in fifty-four countries estimated that sitting more than three hours a day contributed to more than 400,000 deaths in a nine-year period. It’s thought that excess sitting suppresses lipoprotein lipase, a substance in skeletal muscle that breaks down potentially harmful triglycerides. When lipoprotein lipase is unable to do its job as well, triglyceride and blood glucose levels can rise, and HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) levels can fall. Those undesirable occurrences then increase your risk for the common conditions listed above.
Don’t Be Active Couch Potatoes
One of the most interesting findings about sitting concerns what have come to be called “active couch potatoes,” or people who exercise most days but otherwise spend most of their waking time sitting. It turns out that such people aren’t immune to the risks of excess sitting. One study looked at the sitting habits of almost 1,000 men who all had a high level of cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e., the type improved by aerobic activities such as jogging, cycling, hiking, and swimming). Even though the men were similarly fit and active, those who spent the most time sitting were 1.65 times as likely during the ten-year study period to develop metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, etc.). The bottom line: If you exercise regularly, keep at it. If you don’t, start. But either way, don’t think your workouts cancel out the bad effects of sitting.
How To Avoid Excess Sitting
There aren’t yet official guidelines on how much sitting is too much. There is, however, widespread agreement that most of us do too much of it. You certainly aren’t going to harm your health by sitting less. When in doubt, get out of your chair. Doing so at least once an hour is thought to lessen lipoprotein lipase suppression. Moving about for a few minutes—walking across the room, doing stretching exercises, squats, push-ups, etc.—is best. If that’s not possible, at least stand and move in place. At home, stand at least part of the time while doing things like being on the phone, watching television, and reading.
Excess sitting indeed hampers your health. You can avoid excess sitting by just standing and performing some stretches (Check out: List of best stretching workouts from home) or even just by walking across the rooms. Less sitting can improve your health and fitness.