How Sitting is Killing You and What to do About it

Thanks to Chris at Conditioning Research for bringing this to my attention. The dangers associated with prolonged sitting is an important subject that we should not overlook. It was discussed here on Physical Living in an article from early 2010: Too Much Sitting = Too Bad For Your Health.

Have a looksie at the morbid infographic…

Sitting is Killing You

Note: info-graphic source here.

OK, some of the claims are a little hyped up, and we all know the common flaws associated with research and the reporting thereof, but the fact remains that prolonged sitting has some pretty steep consequences whether they’re accurately quantifiable or not. I mean, come on, calorie burning doesn’t drop to 1 per minute for ALL seated people. There are way too many variables involved to make a definitive statement like that. And really, for every hour that you watch TV, your risk of death increases 11%? 11%! That ought to make a great headline in the news, but I’m guessing they’re drawing an absolute conclusion from some isolated test results.

All of this research can appear bleak and over-whelming, but it isn’t doomsday, and there are ways to deal with the situation. We’re not doomed!

So, how do we solve the problem, or if you like the dramatic shtick, how do you get out of your chair alive?

Well, I completely agree with the notion that the 30 minutes of recommended daily activity is not enough (not even close!), and that it’s best to interrupt sitting sessions with movement of some sort as frequently as possible. Although, what they suggest you do during those breaks aren’t necessarily the solutions I’d recommend… Ahem… I mean, come on, marching in place. Seriously?

OK, here I am “marching in place” to combat the dangers of sitting and lower my chance of dying in the next 15 years by 40%.

Let me know how that works out for you!

All kidding aside, you don’t need to become an anti-sitting space cadet to deal with the sitting predicament, and there are much more enjoyable [AND BETTER] options available (like the ones towards the end of this article). But in the end, it shouldn’t be an issue of WHAT to do, but HOW to do it. We know exactly what needs to be done. We know that sitting on our butts all the time is a major problem, and we know that physical activity is the solution. We’ve known it all along! It doesn’t matter whether that activity is walking, tennis, or water polo. The point is that we need to do it!

Now, this is easier said than done. Sure, there are standing desks and wobble boards, and some people walk on the treadmill while they watch TV, but these are novel solutions that – while helpful – ignore the real problem, which is a disconnection from our true nature. What we really need is to find meaning in how we live our lives – in every little thing we do.

This is what Frank Forencich has been saying for years, and especially in his books Exuberant Animal and Change Your Body, Change The World. He actually just touched on this issue earlier this week with one rule he has for himself: whenever there are stairs, he will take them instead of an elevator or escalator. For Frank and myself, these types of decisions to rebel against the norm are not an issue of burning a few more calories or any other trivial health issue, but it’s an issue of personal identity.

This reminds me of a quote from Bill Bowerman who was a track and field coach at Oregon University and is the founder of Nike shoes. Bowerman was played by Donald Sutherland in the movie Without Limits, where he said to his new team of track and field athletes:

“Men of Oregon, I invite you to become students of your events. Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: life.”
– Bill Bowerman

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CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

P.S. Also, the suggestion to sit at a 135 degree angle is interesting. I’m confident this would indeed result in less strain on the back than a forward or vertical posture. Although, it’ll definitely put more strain on your neck from the exaggerated forward lean, which I see they failed to mention in their alarmingly specific infographic. I’d be interested in seeing more research on the topic of seated posture.

10 Responses

  1. Great article John! I am always looking for creative ways to combat the sitting problem. Being a computer geek, who has to spend many days in front of a computer, I am all about getting creative with activity!

    • That makes two of us! Although, I have a feeling that you’ll be doing less and less sitting in the future – it’s just an inkling though…

  2. Miykael

    I have started standing more recently, want to try to make or improvise with some sort of standing desk. Also have been doing compensations for all the sitting. Hamstrings are a lot less tight now, still plenty of work to go. Really tight tsoas on left side

    • The compensations definitely make a difference at the end of the day!

  3. I strongly suggest those like me who need to spend at least 8 hours a days sitting in front of their computer to download this little program:

    http://www.workrave.org

    It’s a little program that notices you when it’s time to take a break, you set it the way you want it, I personally get a notice per 15 minutes, one that just allows me to stretch, look somewhere else or something, and the other one that is a longer “pause”, I usually use this one to go fill my bottle of water and/or walk around a little bit, go to the bathroom, etc. Not only it’s refreshing, but it makes me drink a bottle per 30 minutes 8)

    • Thanks for sharing that, Danielle. I have used a computer “stop watch” in the past, and think it’s a great idea for breaking up the work day.

  4. I have a standing desk (got a desk with adjustable shelves from Ikea for $180) and it’s great. Improved my posture, digestion and back. I’m more alert and don’t get tired after eating like when sitting, and my legs are stronger.

    Btw, I think the idea behind the 135 degree sitting posture is to have your neck straight and have your screen way up in the air and titled to face your face, which is of course impractical. However I saw some kind of wacky angled chair+screen combo online once that almost looked like an arcade machine of some kind. Pretty cool, but expensive.

    • I have a friend who uses a similar setup with an adjustable bookshelf, and the idea has intrigued me. I may give it a try sometime. Thanks for your comment, Jake.

  5. Hey John,

    My husband works at home and he’s always sitting. I showed him this post last week and now he’s planning to buy a stand up desk with a walking treadmill. http://www.whatisrightforme.com/treadmill/ narrowed it down so now his initiative is making me want to take action. In a good way. Throw in the office cubicle stretches and progress from there.

    Have you heard of anyone with a treadmill desk setup John?

    • Awesome, Jane! I’m glad you’re taking some steps in the right direction. Yes, I do know a few people who have made a transition to standing desks and even treadmill desks, but I don’t know too much about them – not enough to make a recommendation on what kind to get. Maybe that’s a good topic for a future article.

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