Is Sitting a Disease?

We need to be standing up for our health, literally.

We have become a sedentary society, where people spend far more time sitting than they did in previous generations - an average of 13 hours a day versus three in a true agricultural society - and that’s a problem. The latest research shows that too much sitting may be more dangerous than smoking (although I am somewhat cynical on that one). Sitting too much is now associated with 34 chronic diseases or conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, back pain, depression, and possibly even premature death, according to 18 studies that involved over 800,000 people in the past 16 years.

How can something that seems so natural and safe cause so many issues? The human body is designed for movement. When muscles are inactive, they don’t draw up glucose from the bloodstream as efficiently. Blood pressure rises. Sleep suffers. There are even changes on the cellular level.

There is a gene called Lipid Phosphate Phosphatase-1, or LPP1, that helps prevent blood clotting and chronic, low-grade inflammation. It functions optimally when you engage in regular exercise. Spending too many hours in chairs suppresses the gene to the point that even daily workouts don’t have an effect on it. One study of healthy people in their 20s found that after just three consecutive hours of sitting, there were changes in arteries of the same type that may contribute to heart disease. However, if they got up and moved around for just five minutes every hour these changes were prevented. Even 30 minutes of daily exercise isn’t enough to counteract all the bodily harm that too much bottom time wreaks. What matters just as much is what you do in all those long hours in between, so it’s about time not moving, not time spent moving.

In the US, the American Medical Association went so far as issuing recommendations encouraging employers to offer alternatives to sitting, such as standing desks.

But you don’t have to invest in a standing desk to reap the benefits of getting out of your chair. Simply add pause breaks every 20-30 minutes, short walks, stretch breaks, walking meetings etc. throughout your day.

Here are some more ways to increase activity:

  • Set your watch or computer alarm every 20-30 minutes as a reminder to get up and move around a little.
  • Take phone calls standing up.
  • Get up and do a few stretches or just move around during TV commercials when seated at home.
  • Walk to the photocopier, don’t have it on your desk.
  • Only ½ fill your glass or water bottle so you consume the contents every 30 minutes.
  • Take the stairs instead of lift and escalators.

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