The Harmful Effects Of Sitting And How To Reverse Them
You may have heard of the harmful effects of sitting before. Prolonged sitting is often called The New Smoking. When you think of something dangerous to your health, your chair at work doesn’t exactly come to mind. However, sitting for long periods is a potential threat to your health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Any extended sitting – such as at a desk, driving or watching TV – increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Various studies have also linked too much sitting to depression, diabetes, obesity, and back pain.
Worse still, the effects of too much sitting are hard to counter even with regular exercise. Research shows that while exercise is extremely beneficial, it does not offset the damage done by extended periods of sitting. “Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch TV afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin,” explains James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution. But first, let’s examine exactly what happens to our body when we sit.
What Happens When You Sit?
As soon as you sit, electrical activity in your muscles drop and your calorie-burning rate plunges to one calorie per minute. (a third of what it would be if you got up and walked). The body becomes less sensitive to insulin and slows the breakdown of dangerous blood fats, lowering ‘good’ cholesterol.
After 30 minutes of sitting, muscles in your lower body turn off and your metabolism slows down 90%. Enzymes that move bad fat from arteries to muscles – where it can get burned off – also slow down. After two hours of sitting, good cholesterol drops 20%.
After 24 hours of inactivity, insulin effectiveness drops 24% and the risk of diabetes rises. Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of prolonged sitting starts to add up.
Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20% higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40% higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.
There is good news however! The solution to counteract the negative effects of sitting are incredibly simple. They can be summed up with two steps:
1. Interrupt sitting whenever you can. Set a timer on your computer, phone or watch to remind you to stand up every hour. Touch your toes and stretch for 20 seconds. Walk across the room to talk to a coworker instead of sending a message. Stand while talking on the phone. Just getting up for one or two minutes every hour is going to get things going again.
2. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day. For many of us, sitting eight hours a day is unavoidable, but it’s the extra hours of sitting outside of work that can turn a serious problem deadly. Moderate activity is equivalent to a brisk walk. This would include yard work or cleaning your house. It doesn’t have to be traditional “exercise”. Anything that gets you moving counts. For a practical approach, it is recommended to break up this 30 minutes into ten-minute segments throughout the day.
Despite compelling evidence that physical inactivity is detrimental to our health, over one-quarter of all Americans engage in no physical activity. While at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day will help reverse the harmful effects of sitting, it is also important to have health insurance. This is a great topic to discuss with your clients who work in an office and sit for long periods.
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