As you read this, you’re probably sitting, something we all do countless times a day. We sit to eat, to work, and to relax. However, research has found that this simple action can be incredibly harmful to your health. A recent editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that people who sit still for prolonged periods of time, such as desk workers or couch potatoes, have a higher risk of disease than those who move a muscle every once in a while. Other studies show rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even certain types of cancer are doubled and even tripled in people who sit a lot. A woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes and heart disease, jumps 26% for every extra hour she sits in front of the TV, according to one study.
Researchers believe that muscle movement and contractions play a role in controlling important blood fats. It is hypothesized that sitting stops of the circulation of lipase, an enzyme that absorbs fats. So instead of being absorbed by your muscles, fat circulates in your bloodstream where it may end up stored as body fat, clogging arteries and contributing to disease. Just standing up as opposed to sitting engages muscles and helps your body process fat and cholesterol in a positive way, regardless of the amount of exercise you do. In fact, sitting for any length of time may overwhelm the benefits of exercise to the point that sitting less may be just as important as regular exercise for your health.
In fact, researchers have found that sitting not only has a negative effect on fat and cholesterol metabolism, but it also stimulates disease-promoting processes. Even scarier, they found that exercising, even for an hour a day, does not reverse this effect. An article on ScienceDaily.com stated that the enzymes in blood vessels of muscles responsible for burning fat are shut off within hours of not standing. Standing or moving will re-engage the enzymes, but when people spend most of their waking hours sitting, they lose the opportunity for optimal fat metabolism throughout the day. So if you do take the time to get regular exercise to stay healthy, you may not want to spend the time you aren’t exercising sitting because it will negate everything you just did.
Other studies found that just sitting may cause you to gain weight. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that those who sat for 7 hours or more during the day were much more likely to be overweight than those who reported sitting for less than 5 hours a day. In other words, just sitting may cause you to gain weight. Another study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the longer a man sits at a desk at work, the greater his chances are of being overweight. In addition, that study found that same man was more likely to have back pain, leg cramps, tense muscles, and boredom.
So what if you have a job that requires you to do a lot of sitting? What can you do? The first step is to take the opportunity to stand rather than sit as often as you can. Stand up while you talk on the phone, when you’re taking public transportation, or when you’re on your lunch break. The average person can burn 60 more calories each hour just by standing instead of sitting. Over the course, of a day this can add up to a lot of beneficial health effects.
In addition to standing, try to come up with ways that you can exercise while working. (You can check out my previous blog post on this subject for some ideas) But here are a few other ideas: climb the stairs rather than use the elevator, walk to ask a co-worker a question rather than calling them, drink plenty of water so you’re forced to take bathroom breaks, or just get up and stretch every 20 minutes. According the Mayo Clinic, your body cannot tolerate being in one position for more than 20 minutes before it starts to feel uncomfortable anyhow. So every 15-20 minutes stand up, stretch, walk around or change your position for at least 30 seconds.
The more you get up and move during the day and the more you stand instead of sit, the better your health will be.