The average American adult spends eight hours a day sitting. Whether at a desk, the dinner table, in the car, or on the couch, experts are finding that it all adds up to one thing—poor health.
A tight neck, bad posture and general sluggishness can be immediate symptoms of a sitting overdose. Whether it’s a Netflix marathon or a long workday at your desk, chances are you will feel it. But since the effects of prolonged sitting add up over time, you may need more than just a good stretch to stay in good health.
The most resounding statistic on the subject, supported by numerous researchers such as James A. Levine M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic, states that people who spend more time sitting each day are at a greater risk of premature death. This may appear shocking at first, but a number of published studies conducted have discovered the mortality rate is 61 percent higher for those who sit seven or more hours a day than those who sit just one to two hours a day. Diseases such as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and obesity are unanimously linked to a sedentary lifestyle. The World Health Organization records approximately 3.2 million deaths annually attributed to chronic inactivity.
These major health concerns don’t happen overnight, although the effects of sitting are virtually immediate. Once you plunk down, your calorie-burning rate plunges and insulin effectiveness drops. Without regular movement, muscles burn less fat, blood flows sluggishly through the body and normal body processes that require healthy blood flow fail to do their job.
For example, inactive muscles do not respond well to insulin. When the muscles do not receive insulin properly, the pancreas overproduces it. This insulin imbalance leads to diabetes and other diseases. Consequentially, excess insulin encourages cell growth, potentially cancerous cell growth. Likewise, if muscles are being used regularly, even to perform mundane tasks, natural antioxidants are produced and fresh blood and oxygen are encouraged to flow through the limbs and the brain.
Unfortunately, studies show that spending a few hours a week breaking a sweat at the gym doesn’t seem to significantly counteract the health risks of sitting all day. Exercise alone will not reverse eight hours in a chair as much as jogging cancels out smoking a pack of cigarettes.
The good news is that all the minutes taken to move in simple ways makes a tremendous difference. Standing while talking on the phone or eating lunch, sitting on an exercise ball, taking the stairs, frequent bathroom breaks, even fidgeting in your chair—it all adds up. Studies show that having standing meetings at work are shorter and more effective. When meeting a friend, take coffee on a walk instead of sitting in the coffee shop.
Also, if you don’t have one already, try investing in a standing office desk. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the “Take-a-Stand Project,” in which researchers studied the effects of a sit-stand desk device on a work group. The outcome showed that those who stood more often at work were more comfortable, more energized, felt healthier and more focused, were more productive and less stressed.
The bottom line is you don’t have to start training for a marathon to stay healthy. In this case, it’s about taking simple opportunities to move, and move more often.