In our modern world, many people lead sedentary lifestyles. The shocking news is all that sitting is killing you. Sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly, staying parked in a chair (or on a couch) is sucking the life out of you one cell at a time.
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) names sitting as the fourth most critical risk factor for serious disease and premature death around the globe.
Such a large portion of jobs these days (and many of our hobbies) require prolonged periods of sitting. Approximately 40% of American jobs are now in the office sector (more than ever and it’s going to grow). Everything from working remotely to surfing social media to gaming finds you sitting on your butt – often for hours at a stretch (without standing at all).
It’s such a silly thing. How can sitting be killing you?
A “Sedentary Lifestyle” Is More Common Than You Think
Maybe you sit for 8-10 hours a day at your job (with a couple of breaks) but then you go to the gym or take a walk and figure it makes up for all those hours in a chair.
It doesn’t. Because you’re also sitting during meals, while you commute, when you socialize, and to travel, read, watch television, or talk on the phone. Those 8-10 hours becomes 12-14 hours with very little awareness. Perhaps more if you work from home and don’t even need to move around to arrive at your daily job.
Toronto researchers wanted to determine how and why sitting is killing you. They analyzed more than 50 studies centered on the short-term and long-term effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
They found that exercising doesn’t balance the scales of chair time. A vast majority of the population in developed nations spend so much more time sitting than literally anything else that it cancels out the benefits of exercise!
If you sit more than three hours without moving, you’re setting yourself up for big problems. If you regularly find yourself in a chair for 8-12 hours a day, you have a higher risk of disease. Not by a little!
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, consistently sitting for long periods (say, the equivalent of your work week), causes your overall personal risk of serious chronic illness to be 90% higher than those who remember to get up and move around.
Sitting is killing you by making you more susceptible to…
- Heart disease
- Lung distress
- Bone and joint trouble
- Depression and other mood disorders
- Poor sleep quality
- Blood clots
- Decrease in brain cognition
- Premature death
In fact, for women who sit more than 6 hours per day, their risk of premature death is 40% higher than women of similar age and health who don’t sit for such extended periods of time.
This problem is so serious that scientists and doctors are referring to sitting as “the new smoking.” You know how bad tobacco use is for your health and your life!
Can you imagine that something that seems so harmless as sitting could be comparable to smoking? It is and we’re only just now figuring out how damaging the problem is.
How to Break the Cycle of Sitting
Before you can stop sitting from killing you, you need to figure out just how much you’re parking your butt in a chair. For three days (your prime sitting days), try to monitor how much you sit (everything counts) and keep track of it with a note on your phone.
Everyone sits more than they think they do!
Note if there are long periods without a break. Add up all those times, divide them by the three days, and get your average “sit time” per day. If you’re sitting more than 3 hours at a time, this is especially problematic. Uninterrupted sitting needs to be limited.
Once you have your average, it’s time to put some steps in place to limit prolonged sitting. This might seem difficult if you’re stuck in a cubicle for 8 hours a day but there are ways to work around it.
5 Tips to Break the “Butt in Chair” Cycle
- Stand whenever possible. If you have a kitchen bar or a high table, eat some of your meals standing. Do specific tasks there such as making lists, updating your calendar, talking on the phone, or checking your social media. Get in the habit of standing up to complete certain tasks and keep doing it until it becomes second nature.
- Have social and business meetings on the move. Do you need to chat with your assistant about an upcoming project? Why not walk to the coffee shop down the block and have your meeting while in motion? You’ll get the same amount of discussion done and it’s refreshing!
- Make your bathroom breaks time to stretch. For those who work in super-busy environments such as call centers, getting time to move around can be tough. Stretch your upper body on the way to the restroom and after finishing up and washing your hands, do some gentle stretches to help loosen your lower body.
- Make yourself work for what you want. Park further from stores, use the stairs, take the subway or bus stop before or after your actual one, and don’t put everything you need to work within arm’s reach. Need a copy, a notebook, a reference manual? Get up and get it.
- Use ads and commercials as cues to get up off your butt. If you’re watching YouTube videos or your favorite show on television, use those annoying pauses in the show to remind you to get up and stretch, go to the bathroom, or even take your dog out. Don’t skip them…use them!
Some other useful tips are to take breaks during car trips that last longer than two hours, walk after meals (before returning to sitting), and set timers to take breaks during extended projects that keep you on the computer for an entire day.
Stretching is a low-impact movement that reminds your metabolism to stay alert and also improves circulation throughout your body. Exercises like this are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). You should perform 10 minutes of NEAT for every waking hour.
Sitting is killing you, but you don’t have to let it. First, you need to stand up…right now…and keep standing up.