You may have heard that researchers are coining the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”. We all know smoking is bad for our health, really bad. We are ingrained with the knowledge that smoking is a killer. So, when these new studies come out claiming that sitting is as bad as smoking for our health, it is almost hard to believe.
Sitting has become a normal part of our everyday culture. Millions of people have careers which involve a lot of sitting. From preschool through to university, we are taught that sitting many hours throughout the day is normal. It is also not uncommon for us to spend a few hours relaxing on the couch after a long day at the office. But, is it normal for us to sit so many hours of the day? No, it’s not. Our bodies are made to move. We have over 360 joints, and over 700 skeletal muscles to allow for easy fluid motion. Our blood and lymph depend on movement for proper circulation throughout the body.Our sedentary habits may seem normal to us because it is what we grew up with. But for two million years, our ancestors spent most the day foraging for food, hunting, moving, and walking. Up until a couple generations ago, we were very active.
BUT I WORKOUT AT THE GYM EVERYDAY TO OFFSET MY FULL DAY OF SITTING!
Apparently, this doesn’t matter. Although exercise is very healthy, researchers have found that working out does not offset the negative effects of sitting all day.
A study posted in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that adults who sat for more than six hours a day had a 40 percent greater risk of death over the next 14 years, compared to those who sat for less than three hours a day, regardless of whether or not they exercised. Their recommendation is to include physical activity and reduce time spent sitting (1).
HOW DOES SITTING DAMAGE OUR BODIES?
Most of us curve our backs and slump our shoulders when we sit for extended periods of time. This puts uneven pressure on our spine, causing strain, wear and tear on our spinal discs, as well as the ligaments, joints, and muscles connected to the spine. When our back is hunched, the space in the chest cavity compresses, allowing little room for your lungs to expand into. This limits the amount of oxygen flowing into our lungs, and therefore through our blood.
Extended sitting also reduces blood flow to the brain. Our brain won’t function at top capacity when it is supplied with too little blood, carrying too little oxygen. Our focus and concentration will most likely dip, and brain activity will slow the longer we sit.
Sitting for long periods of time reduces the activity of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme in the walls of our capillaries, that helps to break down fat in the blood. When the function of LPL is impeded, we do not burn fat nearly as well (2).
Too much sitting raises blood pressure and decreases the diameter of our arteries. This combo increases our chances of developing heart and cardiovascular disease (3).
Excessive sitting can also raise the risk of bone fracture. Too much sitting decreases bone mineral density without increasing bone formation (4). Researchers have analyzed X-ray images of thigh bones from modern humans and compared them to those from humans who lived thousands of years ago. They discovered that compared to our ancestors, “low levels of physical activity contribute to reduced bone strength, and consequently increased fracture risk, in contemporary human populations” (5).
WHAT CAN WE DO?
We can incorporate more non-exercise physical activity into our daily life with these easy tips:
- Get a standing desk.
- Turn a treadmill into a walking desk.
- When we drive somewhere, we can park a block or two away from our destination and walk the rest of the way.
- For those of us who have a desk job, a simple solution is to set an alarm to remind us to get up to walk, move and stretch frequently. Even better, we can download an app that will remind us to get up; Time Out for Mac, or Workrave for PCs. I use Timeout when I work on my computer for extended periods of time, and love it. When it is break time, I get up and do a short set of squats, planks, side planks, mountain climbers or yoga poses. A regular mini exercise break helps keep me focused on my work and improves my productivity.
- Stand at business meetings! You will be the sharpest attendee, and will be an inspiration to others! If your co-workers ask why you are standing, show them this blog.
- Stand or walk while talking on the phone, or during virtual appointments.
- When we do sit at home, we can train ourselves to sit on a yoga mat on the floor rather than in a chair. We tend to will wiggle, stretch our hamstrings, and use our core more than when we do when we sit on a couch. Bonus and we can play with our children, or grandchildren when we are used to being on the floor!
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?
If you are concerned about your children’s excessive sitting in school, you can talk to their teacher about incorporating more standing throughout the day.
In fact, children using sit-to-stand desks versus sit desks, used 32 percent more calories than the children who just sat. This could help combat the childhood obesity epidemic (6).
More importantly, a teacher who instructed a standing group of children stated “when standing, the students were more focused, and I could keep their attention for longer. I have one student with severe ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], and this really helped him academically” (6).
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
How have you incorporated more non-exercise physical activity into your day? Have you noticed any benefits?
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