Hurry! Stand up!
Sitting down - harmful?
I'm sitting down while writing this. You're probably sitting down reading it. It sounds ridiculous, how can such a natural occurence be detrimental?
After the industrial revolution, human society has continually become centered around sitting down. The past 200 years have slowly transitioned our entire way of life. From the ancient hunter-gatherer duties to the 9-5 desk slave, our behaviors have become much less active. Our transportation is seated, our occupations are seated, and even our leisure time is spent seated. It's second nature, but it's at an all-time high. Nevertheless, numerous studies link sitting to poor health conditions.
Sitting vs Sedentary
An important thing to understand is that 'sitting' and 'sedentary' are one in the same; they both involve inactivity. Sedentary behavior is defined as spending a majority of time seated, stationary, with very little energy expenditure (6). Prolonged sitting is associated with bad health outcomes, and the same can be said for a prolonged sedentary duration (2). This article's purpose is not to be interpreted that sitting is bad for you. However, waking up, driving in a seated position to work, working in a seated position for 8 hours, then going home to sit some more is bad.
What it's doing to your Health
Sitting is like eating, it's harmful if you do too much. Physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality, and is responsible for 3.2 million deaths per year (4).
What happens when you sit and stop moving?
- Highly increased risk of cardiometabolic disease(s), obesity, and mortality (2,9)
- Muscle activity is signficantly dropped, and will break down if time permits (Muscle tissue increases metabolism, balance/coordination, lowers RHR and BP, reduce depression, boost HDL, and lowers risks of diabetes and osteoporosis, so you don't want to lose it. (10)
- Breakdown of fat/glucose is stalled
- HDL (good cholesterol) drops
- Blood pressure rises
- Insulin effectiveness drops
- High stress on spine in poor seated postures
- Blood pools in lower legs, a cause of varicose veins and blood clots
- Caloric rate drops (leads to obesity)
Your Poor Posture
Sitting in the same position for a long period of time can be taxing on your posture. Oftentimes individuals slouch, rounding their upper and lower back putting their spine in a very unfavorable position. Even if you're physically active, poor posture can and usually does still occur. Hunching over while sitting can develop kyphosis (unnatural curving) of the upper spine, bulging discs, muscle strain, and even a lack of energy. It also reduces the size of the chest cavity, home of the lungs, giving less space to breathe and limiting oxygen.
The solution to avoiding the damaging effects is simple - stand up and move. Your energy will be increased, and the additional calories burned can lead to healthy weight loss (1). People with desk jobs have twice the risk of heart disease than active jobs. If your occupation revolves around being seated for long periods of time (web developers, front desk clerks) or if you're an avid gamer/television watcher, here are some solutions for you
- Take frequent breaks to stand, stretch, and move (Set alarms)
- Increase your non-exercise activity - Park farther away, Cook instead of fast food, take the stairs, clean the house, walk/bike to whereever you need to go
- Stand and walk around during commercial breaks or any downtime
- Take up active hobbies - Weightlifting, Cycling, Rock Climbing, Yoga, Dancing, Juggling, Bowling, Hiking, Martial Arts, Sport Leagues, the list goes on!
- Buy a standing desk or replace your chair with an exercise ball
- Track your steps (fitbit, iphone, and other pedometers)
- Stand while snacking and/or talking on the phone
If you just really cannot stand, at least switch up your sitting posture every so often. Develop the proper seated posture: stop slouching, straighten up your spine, and ensure your butt (primarily tailbone) touches the back of your chair.
Can't I just workout to prevent any problems?
Exercising is an amazing thing to do. In fact, it's one of the best things you can do to further your health. Unfortunately, an hour of exercise cannot make up for an entire day of sedentary behavior and sitting around. In fact, increasing the time spent standing and walking is actually more effective than an hour of exercise (3). Daily 30-60 minutes of exercise is fantastic, but think about the other 23 hours
Like everything in life, sitting should be done in moderation. Sedentary activity is the primary source of negative effects and should be minimized. Modern man has lost touch to their body due to how easy present-day life is. The key is to start itoring yourself and your present sedentary practices, and use your creativity to make them active. The proper mindset is to priortize becoming more active. Get up and use the body you were given, it will thank you for doing what it was meant to do.
Sources and Further Reading