- Are You Sitting Down?
Are You Sitting Down?
Are you sitting down right now?
Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you probably are.
So am I, of course.
How else can I write this post?
I’ll get straight to the point: this post is about the adverse health effects of sitting down for too long.
But don’t get up yet! I didn’t mean to alarm you.
Nothing wrong with sitting, ok? We’re talking TOO MUCH sitting, and too much inactivity as a result.
But first thing’s first.
Let’s start with a definition: a ‘sedentary lifestyle’ is defined as sitting or remaining inactive for most of the day with little or no exercise. 1
Taking a closer look, most of us sit down for quite a bit during our day: behind a wheel, on the subway to and from work, in front of an office desk, or staring at a screen.
According to Wikipedia:
A sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity can contribute to, or be a risk factor for various chronic health problems, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- High blood pressure
- Lipid disorders
- Skin problems such as hair loss
- Mortality in adults
- Spinal disc herniation (Low back pain)
I’m sure many of us are now thinking “but if I go to the fitness room/jog/dance/engage in energetic exercise twice a week, I’m ok, right?”
The answer is not that conclusive.
According to experts, spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn't seem to significantly offset the risk. 4
And whereas vigorous exercise is great for your overall fitness (assuming your health allows), it is the balance between inactivity, mild activity and intense activity, that is missing.
Think of it in terms of colors:
- White = inactivity.
- Black = vigorous exercise.
- Gray (which is great in our book) would stand for various light activities such as walking, stretching, moving about, etc., as well as simply standing up for a while.
Now let’s paint your activity picture:
If you sit down for most of your day, and then train hard twice a week, you have a black and white picture. But the gray is missing.
Our ideal picture though, should include a lot of different shades of gray, along with the white and black.
In other words, it is the frequent mild movement, such as walking, that we may need to introduce into our sedentary daily routine, in addition to -and not instead of- vigorous training 3, all assuming there are no medical restrictions involved.
Frequent movement is very important to basic health, even though it doesn’t equal vigorous exercise.
Like exercise, it boosts mood, improves blood lipid (fat-cholesterol) profiles, and discourages weight gain, albeit to lesser extents. 2
The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action. 4
That’s probably because the human body evolved in response to the frequent movement needed to survive, and malfunctions in its absence. 2
It is also correlated with immune system function; a reduction in physical fitness is generally accompanied by a weakening of the immune system. 1
The solution is obvious: get up and move more. Stand. Walk. Don’t stay seated for a prolonged period of time.
There are many different ways to incorporate more movement into our everyday life.
The following is a non-exhaustive, generic list of ideas.
You may find that some suggestions are more relevant to you than others and are easier to implement.
Integrate whatever is right for you, you know yourself best.
Provided that it is safe to do so, and that your health permits:
- Walk more.
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gather in a conference room for meetings.4
- Walk or cycle to work (or leave your car, bus, or subway further away from your destination 2).
- Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators.2
- Some workplaces allow sit-stand desks.1
- Some organizations have implemented exercise classes during the day.1
- Practice Yoga.3
- Get up and move for 5-10 minutes every 30-60 minutes.2 (If you've been sitting down for a full hour, you've sat too long3): walk, brisk walk, jumping jacks, squat-thrust 2, stretch, shimmy, march in place, wave your arms, clap, move about, dance, etc. Whatever works for you.
- Stand while talking on the phone 4, or during similar activities.
- Some people even go to the length of positioning their work surfaces above a treadmill.4
- Set an alarm on your computer or download a smartphone app, to alert you to get up at chosen intervals.2
- There are smartphone apps and fitness trackers that can help you track your daily movement, and achieve a desired number of daily steps.
- Find an accountability partner at work to remind you to move more. You could even make it a contest to see who can move more.2
- Use down time to move. Get up during TV commercials, take a walk around the block rather than surf Facebook, and walk up and down your stairs while coffee is brewing.2
- Feel free to come up with any other idea in the same spirit, which speaks to you and was not mentioned above.
If you feel a little overwhelmed now, please relax.
The point of this list is to raise awareness and encourage you to take small steps to enhance your basic health and well-being.
By no means do we seek to shock you, scare you into action, or play on your guilt.
Go back to the list and see if any of the points feels realistic and doable for you.
Can you start that one today?
Preferably no big purchase involved.
Because we’re trying to avoid you looking at the list, thinking “well, that’s a very nice theory, but way too much for me.”
If it’s too expensive, too time-consuming, too extreme, or requires a huge change or tremendous effort, you probably won’t keep it up for very long. It is therefore crucial that you make a judicious choice, with which you feel comfortable, and that you find it feasible and achievable.
Would it be of interest if I shared from my experience in the matter?
While I’m not an expert, I can definitely relate, as I spend most of my working day sitting in front of a desk and a screen, writing articles such as this one.
I sometimes get so absorbed in my work, I completely lose track of time.
So when I did the research for this article and came across the list of solutions, I looked at each one of them and asked myself: would that really work for me?
I have to be honest. Some ideas I liked better than others, and some I simply couldn’t relate to. Overall, the simpler the better. That’s my motto. Some suggestions are not my thing whichever way you turn it, although I realize they may work for other people.
For example, I can easily implement getting up and walking a bit more, but I really can’t see myself positioning my working station on a treadmill. I can either work OR train. I can’t possibly do both at the same time, or both my work and my exercise would suffer from lack of focus and poor performance.
Since I started working on this post I have integrated a brief morning walk (about 10-15 minutes) around the block, just before I start my day, and another short walk just after my day is done.
If time permits, I sometimes take a walk outside, for a few minutes just before lunch time, to enjoy the fresh air.
I also get up once or twice mid-morning for about 7-10 minutes of light movement, including some marching in place, a few stretches and a short shimmy. (That’s right!)
Now for the more intense workout:
Mondays I take a longer, more energetic walk during the AM. (And yes, I would therefore keep working for a little longer after my regular working hours.)
And Friday after work is fitness room.
For me, that pretty much covers the recommendations to move more frequently, and balance inactivity with different levels of activity on a regular basis (daily and weekly).
This should give you a rough idea of how this works in a person’s real life. Nothing too extreme. All doable.
A few more useful tips:
- While you sit, pay attention to signs from within your body. They might be very subtle, so be attentive. Don’t wait for your back to ache, or your knees to feel uncomfortable. Your body is talking to you all the time. Don’t’ ignore it. Get up.
- Notice when you start losing focus. That’s a sign from within to get up (and possibly get out for some fresh air!)
- You may find that a brief walk outside in the fresh air is profoundly beneficial, invigorating, and great for new ideas and clarity of mind.
We’ve talked a lot about sitting down at work, which is inevitable. But we haven’t touched on what it is that we do while we sit down at home, when we’re off work.
And let’s not forget that it’s equally important for the body to be well rested, as it is to be active.
Sitting down in order to rest is one thing, chugging cookies one after the other, smoking, or hypnotically staring at a smartphone for hours, is quite another. You don’t want to add insult to injury. Remember, our global health is affected by many factors, smoking and nutrition among others, but that’s not in the scope of this post.
Now that you’ve read this article, should you feel guilty for enjoying a good book or a fun TV show on the couch, as if you’ve been marked as a ‘couch potato’? And does this count as vegging out?
Well, no, of course not!
Remember the magic word ‘balance’?
Move a bit before, get up after, make sure you’re not sitting for way too long, and you’re all good.
Wishing you a lovely weekend, full of good health and joy!
Wise Choice Market
2. The Silent but Deadly Effects of Sitting
3. What Happens to Your Body When You Sit All Day?
4. What are the risks of sitting too much?