Sitting around all day is more than just a bad habit. It can be a deadly habit. And our faithful dose of weekly exercise is not likely to be enough to keep the potential deadliness of the habit at bay. The key to combating the ill effects of our sedentary lifestyle is to simply get up and get moving, although our way of living may make that tougher than we think.
How Much We Actually Sit
Studies have shown that American adults spend more than half their waking time sitting around, with between about 7 and 9 hours of sitting time during their average day.¹⁻³ One study put the average sitting time of folks in the U.S. and other industrial and developing nations at 15.5 hours per day.⁴
We sit during our leisure time watching TV. We sit in our cars or on public transportation instead of walking or cycling to our destinations. And most of us hold jobs where we sit around at work, with workers in most professions spending an average of 70 percent of their work time in a seated position.⁵ ⁶ Once we retire, many of us celebrate by sitting around some more, with sedentary behavior particularly hazardous for older adults.
What It Does to Our Health
The dangers of too much sitting have been kicking around since the 1600s, and more recent studies have only further exposed the sedentary lifestyle’s detrimental effects.⁷ Excessive sitting has been linked to back pain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides.⁷
Obesity is another potential side effect, with more than two-thirds of middle age adults in the U.S. and other developed countries already suffering from it.⁸ Obesity brings on its own potential list of problems, ranging from stroke to osteoarthritis, with depression and certain cancers in between.
Premature death is high on the list of risks from too much sitting, especially for older adults.⁷ ⁹ Adults of any age who spend their lives watching an average of 6 hours of TV per day can expect to die nearly 5 years sooner than those who watch no TV. In short, every single hour of TV you watch after age 25 decreases your lifespan by nearly 22 minutes.¹⁰
“Sitting disease” definitely qualifies as one of the mismatch diseases outlined in Daniel Lieberman’s book The Story of the Human Body.¹¹ Mismatch diseases are detrimental conditions that rarely affected earlier humans but abound in modern culture because our bodies are ill-suited for the environment our culture has created.
How to Fix It
Regularly getting up and getting moving is the key to offsetting the ill effects of all that sitting.⁷ Even regular exercise sessions, although helpful for overall health, are not enough. Researchers instead advise standing up regularly throughout the day, with one target recommendation set at 35 times during an 8-hour workday. Increase the beneficial effecs by performing very brief exercises while standing, namely those taken from Foundation Training or Pilates, you can sneak in at your desk.
Your body is suffering from the gravitational pull sitting creates, which results in more rapid cell deterioration.¹² Simply standing up can restore the gravitational pull while Foundation Training and Pilates both focus on posture, core development and muscle control that help even further.¹³ Both exercise methods can serve as quick fixes throughout the day to help ensure your body receives the regular movement it needs and craves to reward you with proper functioning, good health and longevity.
- Stamatakis E, Chau J, Pedisic Z, Bauman A, Macniven R, Coombs N, Hamer M. Are Sitting Occupations Associated with Increased All-Cause, Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Risk? A Pooled Analysis of Seven British Population Cohorts. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(9): e73753.
- Matthews CE, Chen KY, Freedson PS, Buchowski MS, Beech BM, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003–2004. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;167:875-881.
- Spittaels H, Van Cauwenberghe E, Verbestel V, De Meester F, Van Dyck D, et al. Objectively measured sedentary time and physical activity time across the lifespan: A cross-sectional study in four age groups. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2012;9:149.
- Owen N, Bauman A, Brown W. Too much sitting: a novel and important predictor of chronic disease risk? Br J Sports Med. 2009;43(2):81-83.
- Jurakic D, Andrijasevic M, Pedisic Z. Assessment of workplace characteristics and physical activity preferences as integral part of physical activity promotion strategies for middle-aged employees. Sociologija i Prostor. 2010;48:113-131.
- Miller R, Brown W. Steps and sitting in a working population. Int J Behav Med. 2004;11:219-224.
- Dunstan D, Howard B, Healy G, Owen N. Too much sitting – A health hazard. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2012;97:368-376.
- Venn AJ, Thomson RJ, Schmidt MD, et al. Overweight and obesity from childhood to adulthood: a follow-up of participants in the 1985 Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey. Med J Aust. 2007;186:458-60.
- Leon-Munoz LM, Martinez-Gomez D, Balboa-Castillo T, Lopez-Garcia E, Guarrar-Castillo P, Rodriguez-Artalejo F. Continued Sedentariness, Change in Sitting Time, and Mortality in Older Adults. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2013;45(8): 1501-1507.
- Lennert Veerman J, Healy G, Cobiac L, Vos T, Winkler E, Owen N, Dunstan D. Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2012;46:927-930.
- Lieberman D. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. New York, NY: Pantheon; 2013.
- Vernikos J. Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. Linden Publishing; 2011.
- Foundation Training. http://foundationtraining.com. Accessed Dec. 20, 2013.