These days, we sit to work, read, eat, watch TV, and commute or just run errands. We average almost 60 minutes a day at the wheel and it’s increasing. The sitting habit is not good for a host of reasons. Research has linked sitting for long periods with a number of health concerns, according to the Mayo Clinic—poor posture, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, unhealthy cholesterol levels, joint pain, heart disease, and even cancer. Not to mention the fatigue, anxiety, and depression that a couch potato lifestyle can lead to. Twenty-five percent of us sit too much and do little or no exercise. Only roughly 3% of us sit for less than four hours on a typical day. No wonder sitting has been labeled by the medical community as “the new smoking.”
And yes, (unless you are a cat), lying down can be just as bad as sitting down too much, and too often. The physical inactivity that goes along with excess sitting contributes to over three million preventable deaths worldwide each year (that’s six percent of all deaths) says the World Health Organization. It is sadly the fourth leading cause of death in the non-communicable disease category.
When does being comfy become hazardous to your health? Sitting (and or reclining) more than 8 hours a day (at one time or even in divided doses) seems to be the number to stay under. Here are some of the specific reasons and a few fixes.
THE DOWNSIDE OF SITTING
YOUR LEGS: Sitting too much (and/ or too long) can weaken the large leg and gluteal (butt) muscles which are critical for walking and for stabilization. Weak gluteals make falls and muscle strains more likely
YOUR HEART and VEINS; we humans are made to stand upright which allows our hearts and cardiovascular systems to work more efficiently. ’Prolonged sitting can lead to varicose veins or spider veins because prolonged sitting causes blood to pool in your legs. Varicose veins can in some cases lead to blood clots, even deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
ENERGY AND BONE STRENGTH: Sitting can cause both energy levels to plummet and bone strength levels to suffer. Your GI system also functions better when you are upright.
YOUR HIPS: A lot of sitting causes your hip flexor muscles to shorten, which can lead to instability in your hip joints, increasing the likelihood of falls.
YOUR SPINE; Poor posture caused by excessive sitting//lying can lead to poor spinal health including compression of discs which in turn can lead to painful premature spinal degeneration.
YOUR BLOOD SUGAR: Studies have shown that even five days lying in bed ( or the equivalent in sitting) can lead to increased insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar. Indeed, people who spend more time sitting or lying show changes in metabolism that increase the risk of diabetes by more than 100 percent.
EVEN CANCER: The chances of developing some forms of cancer, including lung, uterine, and colon cancer, increase the more sedentary you are.
But there’s good news! According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise a day is likely to offset the effects of too much sitting. And it doesn’t even have to be all at once.
So, if you’re stuck in the too-much-sitting syndrome, don’t stand for it! You can turn that habit around and thrive. Here are some simple fixes.
GET UP AND GET MOVING: Tips
- Take shorter, more frequent breaks. Rather than finding the time to take that one 30-minute break in, try mini breaks throughout the day. On the job, it might be simply walking to refill your water bottle, going down the hall to greet a coworker, walking or jogging in place at your work station or standing to stretch at your desk, or even just a brisk constitutional down the office hallway.
- Set up “get-up” prompts: Remembering to get up and move during your working day works best if you create reminders via sticky notes, alerts on your phone or on your digital fitness tracker. But It only works if you take it seriously and respond rather than hitting the snooze button. So keep a list of the health benefits of not sitting at your fingertips as motivation.
- Stand to work: If you’re a desk jockey in an office or at home, consider switching to a standing desk. So-called desktop risers are available for under $100. If you have a tall counter or table, you may be able to create your own.
- Walk not sit meetings: Try trading the sit-down conference for a healthier walking meeting at the office. You burn calories, improve your posture and get some fresh air as a bonus (if you take it outside). At home, use headphones to handle conference calls and walk and talk outdoors or in. It pays off. A moderate 20-minute walk burns the calories in a small bagel or a small smoothie.
- Be an active sitter: It’s not a gym workout but “active sitting” options such as balancing on a large exercise ball or doing your sitting in a rocking chair are better than melting into your sofa while you work or monitor social media. Alternately, invest in a dynamic office chair that ergonomically supports the lumbar trunk muscles while you work.
- Develop a Walking Habit: If you make a commitment to do a morning, afternoon, or evening walk each day (15 minutes minimum), after a few weeks it will become a habit (the good kind). Keep a list of the numerous benefits of walking to resist the urge to blow it off.
- Take a Good Posture Break: Watching TV? Move between commercial breaks. Or create your own push-pause moments to walk around the room or run in place. Even 5 minutes of being upright takes a load off your spine and improves posture.
- Find an “active” hobby. It’s hard to knit or play the piano standing up, but cooking, gardening, home improvement projects, home decorating, refinishing furniture, nature photography, bird watching, and dog walking all bring you to your feet. Explore and commit to an activity that keeps you standing, not sitting.