What if I told you that sitting all day is actually worse for your body than smoking cigarettes? That’s exactly what recent studies have shown, and it’s quite alarming. The studies have shown that sitting for most of your day, you can actually increase your risk of mortality by up to 50%, which is about the same for someone who smokes cigarettes.
Why Is Sitting So Bad For Us?
Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” – Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic
That’s pretty terrifying, to say the least. Dr. Levine goes on to add that sitting will not only increase your risk of obesity, but also the risk of cancers, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and more. His analysis of many recent studies reveals that sitting for one hour can shave 21 minutes off your life. Compare that with smoking, which is said to only take off 11 minutes of your life, and you can see how bad sitting is for our health.
Here are some ways that sitting harms our health:
- We burn 50 less calories when we sit, as opposed to standing
- Our muscles can become atrophy or tight in certain places, which can lead to back pain, leg pain, and more
- Sitting for long periods of time can cause our muscles to release less of the enzyme known as Lipase, which is responsible for controlling the proper breakdown of fats
- Long periods of sitting have been linked to a reduction in insulin sensitivity, and an increase of insulin resistance, which can result in diabetes
- Loss of bone density can occur when sitting for long periods, which is a significant health factor for women specifically
Even worse, too much sitting could shorten your life. Studies in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Asia have all found an association between increased sedentary time and the risk of early death. These associations were independent of traditional risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, waist circumference and diet.
But What If I Exercise?
Unfortunately for those of us who exercise, it’s still not enough to combat the harmful effects of sitting. Even athletes, or marathon runners who trained all day are affected if they go home and sit for the rest of the evening. It’s not the lack of exercise that harms us rather than the actual act of sitting.
What Can You Do To Prevent Sitting For Long Periods?
Standing Desk – If you’re like me and sit in front of a computer all day, in a chair, at a desk, then you might be wondering how in the world you’re going to fix your hours upon hours of sitting. One way to make a huge difference in your daily work life is to invest in a standing desk, which you can find online for under $200. Most companies will allow this type of office setup for their employees, as most companies want to promote a healthier work lifestyle. If your company gives you any push back from this request, you can always get a doctor’s note stating the medical necessity of a standing desk.
Treadmill Desk – Standing all day may be incredibly helpful for most people, but some may find that it increases stress on their back if they already have pre-existing issues. One way to relieve that back stress is to hook up a treadmill to your standing desk, which is perfect for a home office setup. The idea is to move slowly, but consistently at less than 2 mph, which is enough to get the blood flowing, but not too fast to become a distraction. You can grab something like this basic treadmill to add to your standing desk, or check out your local paper or Craigslist for a cheaper option.
Taking Frequent Breaks – If neither of the above options are viable for your particular situation, then you can improve your health by taking frequent breaks, preferably once an hour. Obviously you’ll want to run it by your boss first, but taking multiple breaks throughout the day can help combat the effects of sitting, even if it’s only a quick 5 minutes at a time. Take a brisk walk around the building, or down the street (if you work from home). If you’re not too shy, do 20-40 squats which will help strengthen your leg and butt muscles, the muscles known to get tight and atrophy when sitting.
The Bottom Line
Obviously in a perfect world, none of us would be sitting for extended periods of time. It’s just not in our human nature to sit. We are instinctively hunters and gatherers who are supposed to spend the majority of our days outside running, walking, hiking, and exercising in some form or another.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, so we have to adapt the best we can to what our environment gives us. If you can invest in a treadmill desk like this one for example, then you will have the best chance at preventing and possibly reversing the harmful effects of sitting all day. If you can’t afford a desk like that, there are plenty of exercises you can learn that will significantly help you balance those long periods of sitting. You can find some of those exercises here.
Here’s a helpful infographic:
How much do you sit per day? With all the sitting, driving, computer use, work, watching TV, it can add up to a lot! Share below!