According to recent studies, sitting can be as detrimental as smoking; however, it’s affecting twice as many people without them realizing.
We all know we need to be more active, but there is increasing evidence that we also need to spend less time sitting down. Your body is designed for regular movement, but many Americans spend the bulk of their day sitting still instead. On average, a US adult spends 10-13 hours each day sitting, which is so much inactivity that even a 30- or 60-minute workout can’t counteract its effects.
Worse still, many Americans don’t fit in a workout or a long walk either, which means their bodies are virtually always in a sedentary state. It’s not that sitting is inherently dangerous… the danger is in the dose. While a brief period of sitting here and there is natural, long periods of sitting day-in and day-out can seriously impact your health and shorten your life.
From the driver’s seat to the office chair and then the couch at home, Americans are spending more time seated than ever, and researchers say it’s wreaking havoc on our bodies. Studies are showing that sitting more than six hours a day puts you on a potentially deadly track, even if you exercise!
Levine has been studying the adverse effects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles for years and has summed up his findings in two sentences, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
If you were wondering, yes I am writing this blog post standing up. I didn’t even realize how much time I spent on my butt each day until I looked back at my typical day, and on average I came to the conclusion that I probably spend about 10 hours being inactive. This includes sleeping, driving places, watching tv, scrolling through social media/on my phone, blogging, eating, studying, etc. I was shocked! And don’t even get me started with when I am working… 10 hours of sitting on a lifeguard stand. Now, I’ve always been considered an extremely active person because I might do an hour workout in the morning… but after looking at how much time I spend being INactive… I would hardly put myself in that category.
According to a survey conveyed in 2013, Americans are sitting an average of 13 hours a day and sleeping an average of 8 hours resulting in a sedentary lifestyle of around 21 hours a day.
People usually picture being inactive as sitting in front of a TV like a couch potato, but what people aren’t thinking about is the fact that 86% of American workers sit all day for their job.
According to the CDC, chronic diseases are now the number one threat to public health, far surpassing infectious diseases in the US. And prolonged sitting is the #1 contributor to chronic diseases. And according to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the 4th leading cause of death on the PLANET.
How Sitting Affects Our Bodies:
Sitting impacts our spine and muscles of respiration; and it dampens and depresses our physiology.
Usually when we sit, we have poor posture which can contribute to breathing pattern dysfunctions. Rounded shoulders and a forward head posture cause the muscles around the chest to tighten, limiting the ability of the rib cage to expand and causing us to take more rapid, yet more shallow breaths. Breathing from your chest relies on secondary muscles around your neck and collarbone instead of your diaphragm. When this breathing pattern is accompanied by poor posture, many muscles in your upper body lose their ability to properly function. The longer we sit during the day, the less our body is able to fight the forces of gravity and maintain a strong, stable core.
The ability to maintain a slow, steady breathing pattern enhances core stability, helps improve tolerance to high-intensity exercise, and reduces the risk of muscle fatigue and injury.
Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the toll on your back health is even worse if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. It’s estimated that 40 percent of people with back pain have spent long hours at their computer each day. The disks in your back are meant to expand and contract as you move, which allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. When you sit, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time. Sitting excessively can also increase your risk of herniated disks.
Standing requires you to tense your abdominal muscles, which go unused when you sit, ultimately leading to weak abdominals.
Your hips also suffer from prolonged sitting, becoming tight and limited in range of motion because they are rarely extended. Sitting shortens your hip flexors which then pulls on your back muscles, which causes lower back pain. In the elderly, decreased hip mobility is a leading cause of falls.
Sitting also causes your butt muscles to lengthen, which means as your sitting your toosh is in a prolong stretch. And just like stretching any other muscle in your body too much, it can be bad. The fascia then lengthens and the muscles reduce their ability to contract as well and weakens the glutes. This will affect your stability and the power of your stride when walking and jumping.
When we sit, our blood is not able to circulate which can also lead to more muscle atrophy. It especially leads to poor circulation in your legs, which can cause swelling in your ankles, varicose veins, and blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis.
Walking, running, and engaging in other weight-bearing activities lead to stronger, denser bones. Lack of activity may cause weak bones and osteoporosis.
Studies have shown that blood flow in the leg can be increase by fidgeting and toe tapping. Blood flow is important for vascular health so if you do find yourself in a situation where you have to spend a long period of time sitting (such as a long car ride or plane ride), then try to toe tap.
Other Health Affects:
According to Dr. Levine, when you have been sitting for a long period of time and then get up, at a molecular level, within 90 seconds of getting off your bottom, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol—which are mediated by insulin—are activated.
As soon as you stand up, a series of molecular mechanisms at the cell level set off a cascade of activities that impact the cellular functioning of your muscles. The way your body handles blood sugar is beneficially impacted, for example. Therefore, the disease prevention for diabetes comes into play. All of these molecular effects are activated simply by weight-bearing; by carrying your bodyweight upon your legs. Those cellular mechanisms are also responsible for pushing fuels into your cells.
This all makes sense because if you think about it, if you’ve been resting after a hard morning’s work and then you get back on your legs in order to go back into the fields, of course, your whole body system is to be pushing what you’ve just had for lunch into your muscle, into your body so that you can function well in agricultural practice, which, up until 200 years ago, was what the human body ultimately functioned to do.
The nature of the human body was to be active and moving all day. The body was never designed to be crammed into a chair where all of these cellular mechanisms get switched off. Obviously we’re supposed to rest from time to time. But that rest is supposed to break up the activity. It’s not supposed to be the way of life. This very unnatural sitting posture is not only bad for your back, your wrists, your arms, and your metabolism, but it actually switches off the fundamental fueling systems that integrate what’s going on in the bloodstream with what goes on in the muscles and in the tissues.
As a consequence of that, blood sugar levels are inappropriately high in people who sit. The blood pressure is inappropriately high, the cholesterol handling is inappropriately high, and those toxins, those growth factors that will potentially lead to cancer, particularly breast cancer, are elevated in those people who sit too much. The solution? Get up!
5 Strategies To Break Your Sitting Habit:
- Set an Alarm: I just recently found out that there is actually an app on your phone that reminds you to drink water throughout the day. This is very beneficial because most of us get busy and too distracted during our day and we forget the essential things like drinking water. With the same kind of concept, try setting an alarm every hour to remind you to get up and move around for a few minutes. If your working a desk job, try to get up and stretch and move your body even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Or do a few squats which can unload your spine.
- Stretch for Success: Stretching is not only good for flexibility, but it also improves energy levels, promotes blood circulation, and relieves stress. Since your hip flexors usually get tight from sitting down, try doing stretches to loosen up that area (this will also help relieve your lower back).
- Walk & Talk: Whenever your on the phone, try to take that time to walk around outside or around your office instead of sitting. When you and your friends/loved ones want to meet up, instead of going to a coffee shop and sitting there for hours talking, trying going on a walk outside or do something together that will require more activity.
- Desk Work 2.0: You may want to look into a standing desk
- Gameify Your TV Time: While you’re watching TV, during commercial break see how many pushups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, crunches, etc. you can do and try to beat your record each time. Or if you are with your family, compete against one another.
- When You Are Sitting: Make sure you have good posture. Your abdominals should be engaged at least 20% at all times, shoulders back, chin back, just like standing posture but sitting (actually your most important time to practice posture is while you sit).
**TAKE AWAY: Limit the amount of time you spend sitting a day, it can lead to muscle atrophy, back pain, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, chronic diseases, and some forms of cancer.
Try to take walking/standing breaks every hour, the more breaks you take the better for you. It doesn’t matter how long the breaks are, it matters the amount of breaks you take. It’s better to take a 2 minute break every 30 minutes instead of a 10 minute break every 2-3 hours.
Exercising in the morning or evening each day is great for you, but if you sit for the rest of the day hours and hours on end and the rest of your day your body is not being active, then it has no effect on your long-term health.