Can sitting down too long really be worse thank smoking?
Learn how to counteract the negative effects of sitting down too long and unlock more strength, better health and increased energy at the same time.
Chances are, you’re probably sitting down right now …
If you don’t think you’re sitting down too long on a daily basis, just let your mind wander for a second and think about it…
We sit down for breakfast. We sit in the car or the bus or train on the way to work. We sit at our desks or in meetings all morning. We might go out to lunch, but we’ll probably sit down to eat it.
Then we proceed to sit at our desks all afternoon.
We sit in our cars, or the bus or train again on the way home, and once we arrive, we often down to eat dinner….after which some end up sitting down in front of a computer or television screen for the rest of the night.
Are We All Dying To Sit Down?
The average American spends 9 to 10 hours a day sitting down. Jobs in the telecommunications industry can have employees sitting, on average, 12 hours a day. And to top it all off, on weekends the average person sits for about 8 hours.
Unfortunately, more than 10 000 studies have already shown that all this sitting around can be a major health threat due to the fact that, in its natural state, the human body is actually designed to be in an almost continuous state of movement throughout the day.
Now, if you don’t like cigarette smokers, get ready for this…
Sitting all day has shown to be a worse health risk than smoking cigarettes! (1)
Remarkable evidence now to suggest that prolonged sitting actually encourages many chronic diseases, and common conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer as well as cardiovascular diseases. What’s infinitely worse, research also indicates that even if you are fit and maintain a regular fitness regimen, it is very difficult to counteract the accumulated negative effects of sitting for 12 hours a day. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it has been shown to increase the chances of lung cancer by over 50%!
Come On! Sitting Can’t Be That Bad?
Yes, it can … When you sit for extended periods, bodily processes are set in motion that ultimately increase your risk of disease. It affects everyone equally, even if they eat correctly and exercise regularly. In fact, even Olympic athletes would be at risk where they find themselves sitting down for extended periods. The most recent systematic review of 47 studies compiled on sedentary behavior indicated 3 major negative effects:
- Prolonged sitting far outweighs the benefits obtained from regular exercise.
- More exercise simply cannot counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
- Sitting increases your risk of death and complications for all major health problems.
Sitting for more than 8 hours a day was also linked to a 90% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Those who sit the most, as compared to those who sit the least, have a 147% increased risk of cardiovascular disorders.
An article published in the British Medical Journal in January of 2015 highlighted the dangers of our modern sedentary lifestyle. It suggested that public policy on movement during work hours need to be reassessed. Research into a number of health effects were reviewed, including cancer and mental health. The study found that sitting down too long increased the risk of:
- Lung cancer by 54%
- Uterine cancer by 66%
- Colon cancer by 30%
The increased cancer risk was clearly linked to weight gain and biochemical changes in the body, such as altered hormones, metabolic dysfunction, leptin dysfunction and inflammation. These all promote cancer while anxiety and depression rises with the hours spent in a chair.
Can You Fully Counter The Effects Of Sitting Down Too Long?
While you can’t counteract it completely, a few simple steps can really make a big difference to your overall health.
- Keep track of the time you spend sitting in a day. After a few weeks you may be surprised as how much time you’ve spent sitting. This will increase your awareness, and you will naturally begin sitting less.
- Make use of a standing desk at work.
- Break the cycle of sitting down too long by getting up from your desk at regular 20 or 25 minute intervals and take a short 5 minute walk or do some simple stretching exercises to stretch your hip flexors.
- Watching TV is also a big cause of people sitting down too long. When watching television, stand up or walk around during commercial breaks.
- Make a conscious decision to stay active on weekends. Go for a walk in the park, or a hike in the countryside. Look for activities that will keep you active as much as possible.
In an ideal world, you should avoid sitting completely for the best metabolic results, but in our modern world this is not always a realistic expectation.
What Can Standing Up Do?
On a molecular level, our bodies were designed to be active.
When you’ve been seated for a long period of time and then stand up, a molecular chain reaction begins. Within 90 seconds of standing, the muscular and cellular systems which process blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol are activated.
These processes are all moderated by insulin and activate simply by carrying your own body weight. This fuels your cells and radically decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes.
It’s really that simple.
If you have been sitting for a full hour, it’s too long. Your body’s cellular mechanisms are shutting down. All you have to do to drastically decrease your risk of disease is to…you guessed it… avoid sitting too much.
The First Step To A Healthier Life
The World Health Organisation recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. This may be a bit ambitious for an elderly person, but simply try and avoid sitting down too long as much as possible.
Professor Phillip Sparling writes: “There is now a clear need to reduce prolonged sitting. Secondly, evidence on the potential of high-intensity interval training in managing the same chronic diseases, as well as reducing indices of cardiometabolic risk in healthy adults, has emerged. This vigorous training typically comprises multiple 3-4 minute bouts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with several minutes of low-intensity recovery, three times a week. Between these two extremes of the activity spectrum is the mainstream public health recommendation for aerobic exercise of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more. However, many people, especially in older age groups, find it hard to achieve this level of activity.
We argue that when advising patients on exercise, doctors should encourage people to increase their level of activity by small amounts rather than focus on the recommended levels. The 150-minute target, although warranted, may overshadow other less concrete elements of guidelines. These include finding ways to do more lower intensity lifestyle activities.”
It’s clear that chronic sitting (aka. sitting down too long on a regular basis) reduces your lifespan and promotes chronic disease.
Take a closer look at how you spend your day.
At bare minimum, avoid sitting for more than 50 minutes at any one time.
Quick high-intensity training, walking 7000 to 10 000 steps a day and not sitting as much as possible is the perfect way to reform your body’s health. Walking is no replacement for regular exercise, but it is a good place to start if you don’t have a regular exercise routine.