Too Much Sitting = Too Bad For Your Health

when are we NOT sitting?

I’d like to say that I’m bringing you a nice, refreshing article about how we as a physically-cultured society are moving forward to greater heights in health and fitness. I wish that I could say we’ve made excellent progress to raise awareness, provide assistance, and solve common problems that are facing those who have trouble adopting a physically-focused lifestyle. I wish that I could tell you things are getting better. Unfortunately, I would be lying through my teeth. Even if my molars, canines, and incisors were sealed shut with quick-drying, rubber cement, the lies would burst out of my nostrils (How’s that for graphic imagery? Don’t answer that.).

I’m sorry to report to you that we are making a TON of progress – rapid progress – towards a doomsday end of physical exuberance and youthful vitality. Even with the onslaught of information that is available about living a life of abundant health and vitality, we are still managing to deteriorate faster than the pothole-laden, frostheave-strewn New England roads in the dead of our snowy and occasionally frigid winter. Where do all those property taxes go anyways?

It’s the sad truth. Even though we know that we know that we KNOW that we shouldn’t remain sedentary for the better part of the day, we still are. At least that’s what I’ve been reading lately. Statistics are statistics, and they can lie, but we’re certainly moving in that direction – the sedentary direction, that is. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I heard something refreshing in the news about health and fitness.

And just to add to the reverberations of awful news in health, here’s another one for you taken from The Telegraph

Recent research suggests that inactivity increases the chances of developing diabetes and heart disease, independently of how often someone works out.

Interesting. Now you’re telling us that even if we exercise regularly – no matter how much or how hard, if we sit for too long, then we’re still at a greater risk of developing debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Fantastic news! Tell me more.

One study found that that the chance of developing metabolic syndrome, a condition which can lead to diabetes, rose by 26 per cent for every extra hour a woman spent watching television, no matter how much exercise she took.

Mmm, now that’s not reassuring news. Surely they have a solution for prolonged sitting…

They suggest simple changes, such as taking the lifts instead of the stairs, or walking around the office for a few minutes during the working day.

I should’ve known that it was this simple. To think that death could be postponed or maybe even prevented by a couple minor shifts in daily transportation. I, for one, am glad that this team of educated, qualified professionals is working hard to find and solve common, deadly health problems.

Anything else?

The researchers admit that scientists do not yet fully understand why spending long periods sitting down can increase the chances of developing health problems.

Aha!  I knew this was coming. The infamous line of “we need more research in this area.” Man, if I had a nickel every time I heard that, I could probably afford to clone myself (which probably wouldn’t be a good idea – for me… or society).

Of course we need more research! Gosh, look what all the research is helping us accomplish. In case we didn’t already know, we NOW know that sitting down all day is bad for us. Well I’m glad that’s settled. Give those scientists a paid vacation. They’ve done enough work. Surely, their names will be written in bold within the bowels of our children’s science books (If this is your first time here, please note the sarcasm).

All kidding aside, this kind of research is important. As much as I hate to admit it, it DOES serve a purpose. But what I’m even more interested in hearing than the research conclusions, is the actual in-the-trenches advice of not only what we need to do, but HOW we can do it.

It’s so easy to offer painfully obvious advice like “take the stairs instead of the elevator” or “park further away in the parking lot.” If it were that simple, everyone would be fit and healthy. This advice doesn’t help people as much as the advice to internalize the principles of physical living. In order to enjoy all the benefits that a physically-focused lifestyle has to offer, we need to do more than just follow rote advice, we need to adopt and practice new life values, or at least confirm the ones we have forgotten.

If we, as individuals, don’t take disease prevention seriously BEFORE disease is upon us, then when we get stressed enough, sick enough, fat enough, or old enough, it’s going to be too late to prevent disease from taking over our life. It becomes outside of your ability to control, out of your hands. At that point, you start relying on doctors who work with life and death every day. There’s nothing else you can do but depend on someone else, which has valuable life lessons, of course – if you live through it. But I’d like to avoid that scenario, if possible.

Maybe I’m just a control freak (my parents did own a book about raising a strong-willed child), but I’d like to know that I have the ability to at least take care of my physical health, all by myself, or at least with the simple aid of my family. Not my doctor, not the government, not the late-night TV ads. I want the ability to maintain and improve my physical health and fitness solo. And I understand that there are always exceptions to the rule, and I’m not saying doctors should not be consulted – they are the best people to be seeking when you are facing a health problem that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment. Although my thoughts about government run health care and most late night health gimmicks may be different.

My point is that we already know the fundamental fact: sedentary living ultimately leads to disease and premature death. This is not new news. Although it has been given some attention recently…

Sitting Too Much Could Be Deadly

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100120/ap_on_re_eu/eu_med_dangers_of_sitting

Sitting Too Long: a novel and important predictor of chronic disease risk

http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/43/2/81.full

Physicians should discourage prolonged sitting because it leads to diseases that often result in premature death – even cancer

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19346988?dopt=Abstract

Search the Internet, and you’ll find plenty more evidence against prolonged sitting. So, what can we do about it?

Peter Katzmarzyk of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge (we’ll call him PKOTPBRCIBR for short), says “But it seems the more you can get up and interrupt this sedentary behavior, the better.”

Ok Peter, that sounds like a logical conclusion. If prolonged sitting leads to dis-ease and eventually premature death, then surely breaking up those extended periods of sitting (aka “mega-breaks”) with mini-breaks should improve the numbers game. But what if we did something totally different? What if we went totally against our better reasoning and actually did something that we just know will solve this problem and many others? That’d be crazy talk, right?

I mean what kind of wacko would recommend you actually make a disciplined effort to stay active almost all day long? I think you already know the answer to that. And I wish I had a super-hero theme song that played right now as you’re reading this. But unfortunately, good advice rarely comes with theme music. It’s usually just good advice, and you either take it or leave it. And here’s a high dose of old-fashioned, good advice:

If you want to live a long, healthy life, if you want to prevent disease and the discomforts and hardships that come with it, and if you want to live your life to the fullest potential, then you need to make a conscious effort to get physically active as much as possible EVERY DAY – even if that means you need to drastically change your life.

Not for an hour at the gym, 3 times a week. Not for 5 minutes a day in the comfort of your living room. If you’re still counting the minutes, then you haven’t realized the true value.

Battle Plan Against Inactivity

Here’s a great plan that will completely rock-your-socks-off if you followed it for 4 weeks straight – or maybe even 4 days… or heck, 4 years…

Start your day with a quick Intu-Flow joint mobility session to wake up your nervous system, release tension, and prepare your body for the day ahead. If you have a sedentary job, do this periodically throughout the day, too. (8-15+ minutes).

After lunch, go for a walk or run. (10-30+ minutes).

Mid or late afternoon, do something physically challenging like clubbell training, bodyweight exercise, TAC-FIT, MovNat, FlowFit, BodyFlow, or practically anything else from this list (14-45+ minutes).

After dinner, or right before bed, finish your day with some Prasara Yoga (14-20+ minutes).

After all that, you can have a day full of physical activity in as little as 46 minutes*. Not only that, but you’d have an excellent system for achieving virtually any fitness goal. Want to look like an athlete or a model – yep you can do that in 46 minutes a day. Want to play better ball? Yep you can do that, too. Want to have more energy, better sleep, better sex, better concentration, better better better. Yep, those, too.

*If you don’t have 46 minutes a day, then you’ve got problems, my friend, and I feel sorry for you. I’d recommend you do yourself a favor and make some time for YOU.

You Won The Battle, Now Win The War

But what if you wanted to go the extra mile. Maybe you have an hour or two every day to devote specifically to physical activity, but you want to make an extra effort to squash your sedentary habits for good. The answer is obvious, but PKOTPBRCIBR doesn’t know. Peter doesn’t know that instead of suggesting brief interruptions of sedentary behavior, the best solution is to completely eliminate the sedentary behavior. If you want to eat that hippo, don’t tickle its feet. Cut it off at the head!

So, how do we do that?

Well, for most of us who have a common-man life, it means we would need to get a job that involves physical activity – and there are many available (though in slightly less demand). Sure, you could fight the battle of trying creative methods for incorporating more physical activity “bursts” into your daily regime. And that’s a worthy goal, and all the power to those who seek after it. I wish I had a good solution for you (maybe you already do, and if you do, please share in the comments). But the odds are against most of us, and if you’re confined to a desk for the better part of each day, then it may call for more drastic measures.

You may have to get rid of your TV, or only turn it on for special occasions (and no, special occasions don’t happen every day). You may have to walk or cycle to work instead of ride. You may have to sacrifice sleep to make time to exercise. You may even need to change jobs…

But what if there isn’t anything available in my area? Well, you might have to relocate, which is not quite as bad as dying early.

But what if it doesn’t pay as much? Don’t worry, a good life insurance plan will take care of your family.

But what if I don’t like it? Then don’t do it.

I’m not trying to back you into a corner. What I am trying to do is show you that each one of us makes our health a priority at different levels. Each one of us decides what our health is worth to us each day. And each one of us will live and die by our decisions. Many will have you believe that you are bound to a particular fate, but it’s not true. You are responsible for your life, and you have the power to change your circumstances one choice at a time. Free will is a beautiful thing because you CAN choose. If you need help, get started with one of the programs I listed above. Set a time to do it every day, and find a way to make yourself accountable to that.

And now, to sit or not to sit? That is the question. And I hate to admit it, but you won’t find the answer from reading a blog.

To your health and success,

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

 

19 comments to Too Much Sitting = Too Bad For Your Health

  • Jeremiah

    Ahhhh. It’s too bad I had to sit down to read this post. :-)

    The situation is bad. I did quit my job and make many other fairly radical changes to reduce as much as possible the sedentary portion of my day. But the habit of sitting is so entrenched into our culture that it is wicked hard to get away from. Mostly we only stand up to temporarily move from one seat to another.

    This makes me want to try an experiment soon where I don’t sit at all for the whole day. I bet it would be really hard, but it would be a great eye opener I think in terms of how much I probably sit.

    Ahhhh. And I’m still sitting while writing this. Guess I’d better go stand up for a bit.

    • John

      Hey Jeremiah,

      That would be an interesting experiment. I couldn’t do it on a work day, but I may try it this weekend. I’ll substitute squatting for sitting when I need to. And thanks for mentioning the TimeOut program. I use something similar throughout the work day to get moving and rest my eyes.

  • Jeremiah

    And to anyone who does work on a computer, I highly recommend TimeOut (http://www.dejal.com/timeout/) or something similar if you can stand it. I have it set for a 10 second break every 10 mins to look away and rest the eyes and a 10 minute break ever hour to get up and walk away. If you can handle the train of thought interruptions fluidly it can really help alleviate computer fatigue. And if you can’t, well, you’re probably screwed.

  • Yeah, all the sitting I do for my job is really beginning to bother me. Reading those articles was just enough to push me over the edge and order a balance board for use while standing at my desk. Should be getting here this week!

    Don’t you just love research? People throw it around as if it is some sort of authority for living. Problem is, you can find research to support almost anything. Add that to the fact that most research ends with the conclusion that more research is required before any definitive conclusions can be made. When definitive conclusions are made, it usually is only for things are are brain-dead obvious. To make things even worse, almost any condition can now somehow be blamed on genes. No wonder people don’t make any changes, they don’t know what to believe any more. I think that I am genetically pre-disposed to a sitting disorder, I can’t help it, it’s in my genes, there is nothing I can do!

    (Sorry for the mini-rant, I couldn’t help it)

  • Cheryl Malone

    Squatting is good; I lived in China for two years and that’s were I discovered squatting instead of sitting. Squatting is also good for the low back.

    • John

      Hi Cheryl, Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree more with you. Squatting has many benefits – health, mobility, fitness, among others.

  • John Paul Tan

    I know sitting on a chair is detrimental to health but what about sitting on the ground. Is the human body design to sit on the ground?

    • John

      John,

      Any prolonged inactivity will be detrimental to health long-term, whether sitting in a chair or on the ground. It’s not so much what we sit on as how we sit and for how long. Everything is an act of conditioning. So, sitting on the ground with poor posture will be just as bad for our health as sitting in a chair with poor posture. The human body thrives on movement and rest – not inactivity, but REST, which becomes necessary as a result from physical activity.

      So, we know three things that can help us:

      1) the body thrives on movement, so it’s best to stay active
      2) health deteriorates from prolonged sitting, so it’s best to not sit for long
      3) health deteriorates from sitting with poor posture, so when we must sit, do so with conscious control of posture

  • Jeremiah

    John, have you written up anything on posture specifically? Or planning to in the future? I found out about the gokhale method (http://egwellness.com/) this fall through Sisson’s site. It’s posture class with a great anthropological/ancestral/indigenous spin. Took a class this fall and loved it. Also heard good things about the alexander technique. I’d be very interested to read a thorough analysis on posture (during movement of course, but also I’m really thinking about during rest) coming from your perspective. If you have no interest in doing a full article, I’d still be curious what resources you use.

    • John

      Jeremiah,

      I’ve never heard of the Gokhale method until now, but I know a few people who swear by the Alexander technique. I haven’t studied posture specifically, except for what I’ve learned from Circular Strength Training and Prasara Yoga, but I think good posture is much simpler than we make it out to be.

      I remember reading an article awhile back that simplified a good posture practice for me, and I still repeat this mantra to this day:

      “Stand like a mountain, sit like a king, rest like a corpse.”

      That article is here (in PDF format):
      http://www.agelessmobility.com/Health_Report.pdf

      As you know, being mindful of your movement is important, even when sedentary. Learning some yoga poses will help to solidify your understanding of proper posture/structure while not otherwise moving. Sometimes, it’s helpful not to think of them as yoga poses because that phrase carries a lot of baggage, instead, think of it as optimal human posture/structure that has been studied for millenia and perfected with our modern understanding of biomechanics. Also, as we learned in Summersville, we are never truly motionless. Even when standing as still as possible, there is still slight movement that happens – because we’re never really standing motionless, we’re actually balancing. Keep this in mind while studying yoga, as this is a large principle on which Prasara Yoga is based.

      I would recommend reading up on the following yoga poses: mountain pose, seated pose, and corpse pose. I’d also recommend looking into various squatting and kneeling positions, too, as they can be of immense benefit to add to your study of mindful movement. Perhaps I’ll throw together an article about what I’ve learned about posture in the future – good idea for a topic!

      All three of these poses are taught in Ageless Mobility DVD, and if my memory serves me correctly, a much more in-depth explanation of Mountain and Corpse poses are included in the RESET DVD.

  • Hi John,

    I am a full believer in the unhealthful situation most people are in on a daily basis due to sitting for prolonged periods of time. I changed to a stand up work station in 2004 due to a pinched nerve in my neck which was aggravated by sitting at the computer for 6-8 hours a day. I try to enlighten everyone I can to the advantages of not sitting down for hours on end. I have a video on my website titled Ergonomic Indo Office which shows how it works. My physical condition has changed remarkably because I’m getting exercise while working. Let me know if you find any interest in the Indo Board as an alternative to sitting.
    Sincerely, Hunter Joslin, President, Indo Board Balance Trainer

  • Greg

    I love your style of writing. I have a solution for people to try before quitting their desk job. I have been doing this recently; I stand when I am doing anything other than typing. I am working on getting my work to ok, for me to get a desk, or addition to my desk that will put my key board and monitor at a height that will allow me to stand when I type. I read other research where they had people perform computer task while seated as well as standing. While standing the participants were 5-30% more effective at the task opposed to sitting. Based on that study alone, companies should want their employees to stand and not sit.

  • You make many excellent points and the three above are perhaps the most important. But lying down continuously is worse than sitting. Yes you can relax lying down but anything done continuously is not good for the body and that goes for standing too. The body responds best to on/off stimulation, so lying down sitting or standing is harmful unless interrupted by movement. The movement does not have to be intense. It is best when it is high frequency, low intensity and diverse. We learned this from studies with astronauts in space who live esentially without gravity and healthy volunteers lying cotinuously in bed for days, that we used as the ground model to induce changes similar to those in space. In both cases the resulting changes are similar to those of accelerated aging. It takes at least 16 times of standing up or walking at 3mph for a few minutes from lying down to prevent at least the cardiovascular effects lying down continuously 24 hours per day. Standing up was better than walking. Walking was better for bone loss and needed a lot less.We speculated that it would take 32 – 36 times of standing up spread out throughout the day from sitting. It is easy to structure your life to get up roughly every 30 minutes until it becomes a habit again. The body evolved and was designed as a perpetual motion machine using gravity as the stimulus to stay tuned. Your Time Out might help to get you going but not essential. As you point out the first thing is to become aware and take responsibility for your health. Think of it as tuning. Too much or too little of anything is not good. Check out ‘Sitting Kills, Moving Heals’.

  • Moniker

    Did you write this while standing?

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