According to Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, “sitting is the new smoking.” Research tends to support the claim that prolonged sitting increases the risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and depression. We spend a large part of our day sitting – either at work, behind the wheel of our car, or in front of the television. In fact, it seems like we are sitting ourselves to death!
Sitting contributes to organ damage, brain damage, muscle degeneration, and leg disorders. This is because the body tends to turn itself off when we sit for long periods of time. When we stand and are moving, we activate the systems in the body that process sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Insulin is involved in these systems and it is responsible for transporting fuel into the cells, which decreases the risk of obesity and diabetes. With prolonged sitting, muscles burn less fat and blood flow is slower, making it easier for the heart to get clogged with fatty acids. Blood flow to the brain is also slower, which results in decreased delivery of oxygen to the brain thereby causing decreased function. Additionally, there is a correlation between prolonged sitting and weight gain. This increases inflammation and contributes to hormonal changes in the body, both of which are correlated to cancer.
When we sit for too long, we are apt to have a plethora of aches and pains. Strained necks and shoulders are very common because we are holding our phones to our ears or we are working at a computer in a hunched position. Additionally, more pressure is placed on the spine in a seated position and it is possible to lose flexibility in the disks. This contributes to back pain and possible herniated disks. Further, sitting may cause tight hips and a limited range of motion, in addition to weak glutes, since they are not being recruited for movement. Lastly, sitting is linked to weak bones, osteoporosis, and poor circulation in the legs, which is correlated to varicose veins. Basically, our bodies were designed to be active, and when we sit down and stop moving for long periods of time, the body starts to shut down.
One of the major concerns about sitting is that going to the gym or participating in physical activity doesn’t seem to decrease or reverse the risk from sitting. Research suggests that only through sitting less can we decrease the negative effects of sitting. So even running 10 miles every day will not reverse the negative effects of being at a desk all day. Sitting and activity are two distinct behaviors that influence our health independently. So what can we do?
While eliminating sitting from our daily routine is impossible, we can improve our health and decrease the negative effects of excessive sitting by consciously getting up from our desks and moving around. First, if you are aware of how much you are sitting every day, you can attempt to reduce the amount of time each week. Try to stand up or walk around every 30 minutes – set an alarm if you need to be reminded! Additionally, try stretching at your desk and learning the proper sitting mechanics to improve your posture while sitting in order to decrease the risk of muscle strains.
You can take it even further by investing in a standing desk or a portable standing workstation. Find ways to move around more at your job. For example, take the stairs or park your car far away from the entrance of your building to increase the time you are on your feet. It is time to take a stand for your health and minimize unnecessary health risks. Start the New Year on your feet!