For most of us, sitting is just a regular part of our lives. We sit at school, at work, in the car, while eating and during our favorite TV shows. Some of us take regular breaks from sitting to walk or to exercise (a notion which I’m sure our ancestors would find astonishing) but is it enough? Let’s take a look at the surprisingly strong link between poor health and sitting.
When you are sitting:
- Your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity doubles or even triples.
- Calorie burning rate drops within one minute – to 1/3 the rate it is when you are walking
- Insulin drops in effectiveness causing a rise in the risk of Type II Diabetes
- Fat burning rates shift dramatically. When sitting down, lipase (an enzyme that helps usher circulating fat into muscles) shuts off which allows fat to remain in circulation, lowering HDL – good cholesterol – potentially clogging arteries and being stored as body fat
In one simple study, a man consumed one meal while sitting down and one while standing. The plasma samples drawn after each meal were decidedly different – the sample drawn after the standing meal was clear liquid, the sitting meal plasma was cloudy with fat.
Though exact hourly guidelines have not been put forth, one study showed that men who spend 6 hours per day or more sitting had an overall death rate about 20% higher than those who sat 3 hours or less. Women who sat for more than 6 hours per day had an overall death rate about 40% higher than those who sat less.
What Can You Do?
- Take frequent breaks from sitting. At work, walk to the bathroom once per hour, stand up and stretch and activate your large muscle groups with a few squats or lunges.
- Perform activities while standing, if you have the choice. I have two standing desks in my home, (large pieces of custom cut wood mounted to the wall and finished) and I have a cardboard box that I set my computer on when it is on the kitchen counter. It may feel odd at first to stand while watching TV or browsing the computer but you’ll get used to it quickly.
- Fidget more! In one study conducted at the Mayo Clinic, participants who fidgeted more gained less weight. So, despite your grade school teacher’s admonishment to sit still, I suggest you wiggle your toes, jiggle your legs and squirrel around in your chair to your hearts content.
For a lively and fascinating look at the science behind sitting and health, see the NYT article in which the author participates as a mock research participant wearing “magic underwear” that measure his every movement.
To your best health!
Cassandra Mick, CNE