Sitting is the New Smoking

We’re sitting too much, too long, and too often these days! And the cost, in terms of healthcare dollars, as well as in how we feel and what it is doing to our level of fitness, is staggering. In fact, sitting is considered a health risk on par with smoking…yes smoking! Crazy, right?

So let’s get to it. Why is sitting so bad? Below is a list of the health risks associated with sitting. And when you look at the list, just imagine a list of all the positive effects of exercise…and then reverse it!

WHY TOO MUCH SITTING IS BAD

• It slows your metabolism making your body and your mind more sluggish and fat storage easier.
• It deconditions your heart muscle, making it weaker and less powerful.
• It increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
• It increases your risk of obesity and our caloric burn rate slows dramatically the longer we sit.
• It increases our risk of diabetes, increases weight gain, decreases muscle, and decreases insulin sensitivity.
• It increases the risk of dementia associated with higher body fat and blood lipid levels.
• It increases the risk of anxiety as cortisol (the major stress hormone) is not “burned off” as it is when moving and or exercising.
• It worsens sleep quality, again from higher stress hormone levels.
• It worsens back and joint pain, causing tight hip flexors and hamstrings.
• It lowers fitness level and muscle tone.
• It increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis, blood, clots, varicose veins through promoting blood pooling and stagnation due to a lack of circulation.
• It weakens bones and increases the risk of osteoporosis.
• It increases the risk of cancers – colon, endometrial, lung, and breast to name a few.
• It is terrible for posture, upper back and neck muscles, leading to headaches and other ailments.
• It causes overall health degeneration (see above!) which shortens lifespan.

That said, realize that it’s not sitting per se that’s bad, it’s being static and sedentary. Laying down too much is basically just as bad, as would be standing in one place all day. Static and sedentary is not good for us! It’s all about staying mobile!

SO HOW LONG IS TOO LONG?

The website Juststand.org has a sitting calculator you can try out – and the results may surprise you. We sit at a desk, we sit to drive, to eat, and to watch TV. The bottom line? We are sitting more than we realize! Just add it up and you’ll see what I mean.

They categorize the health risks from sitting, in terms of hours per day, as follows:

Low Health Risk: less than 4 hours per day of sitting
Medium Health Risk: 4 – 8 hours per day of sitting
High Health Risk: 8 – 11 hours per day of sitting
Very High Health Risk: more than 11 hours per day of sitting

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT 

The best way to stop and or reverse the negative, degenerative effects of sitting is with exercise – but that doesn’t have to mean 5 intense cross-fit workouts per week. We are meant to move every day, that is how we were designed, but that movement can and should be outside the gym. Examples can be anything ranging from walking to gardening to grocery shopping.

Remember, even if you work out 3 times per week with intense workouts (whatever form that takes), it may be difficult to overcome the cumulative effects of sitting 8 hours a day or more. So don’t think of it as either sitting or exercising, think about ways to get up and increase your movement throughout the day.

GET UP AND MOVE

If there is a will, there is a way. Your priorities determine your capacities. So decide that your health and feeling of well-being are worth it and commit to moving more! Here are just a few ideas to get the juices going whether you’re working from home or in an office:

• Schedule movement breaks throughout the day.
• Every time you get or initiate a call, stand up and pace.
• Find an accountability partner or team to take short walks with, remind, and encourage. Nowadays, this can even be a virtual partner.
• Use lunchtime wisely for a walk while talking to a friend or co-worker either in person, Facetime, or by phone.
• Don’t just wait – move! Waiting for the copier? Move, walk, do calf raises, half squats, lunges, or march in place.
• Initiate an office fitness challenge. This can be counted steps per day, laps around the building, of flights of stairs throughout the day. This can be done before work or on breaks and everyone can chip in for a prize.
• Have standing/moving meetings.
• Walk to the next office to speak with a co-worker instead of calling them.
• Take the stairs whenever possible, for fun or necessity.
• Set a reminder to stand up at your desk and touch your toes, stroll around, do squats, side lunges, ceiling touches, march in place
• Track your steps throughout the day/week and challenge yourself to new records.
• Use a fitness watch to track and chart your progress.
• Write up a post-it note with a daily program: vacuums at your desk, toe raises at your desk, glute squeezes, Kegel’s, hand gripper reps.
• Use small hand weights or fitness bands at your desk.
• Try a Standing Desk – a standing desk can break up the body positions of your day, but again, standing for hours in one position isn’t much different than sitting for hours in terms of being sedentary. Standing does allow you to walk in place, do heel raises, mini-side lunges, and all-around a bit more than sitting.
• Try sitting on a stability ball rather than just a chair, to engage your trunk muscles and pelvic stabilizers making your low back stronger.
• Stretch! A few minutes on the internet will yield a selection of videos for at desk stretches for your neck, shoulders, and back.
• Search for at your desk Yoga poses to stay supple and invigorate your body.

Let’s do this! Find a way! It’s worth it for your body and your mind! Don’t make it huge or daunting to start with, be creative, and make it fun!

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About the Author: Dr. Tom Deters

Dr. Tom Deters is the former Editor in chief and publisher of Muscle & Fitness magazine and publisher of both FLEX and Men’s Fitness magazines. He has published hundreds of articles and given hundreds of seminars on training, performance nutrition, diet strategy and bodyfat control.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.