Recent studies have been mounting across the health and fitness community that suggest sitting could be seriously harming your health. We have decided to try to make sense of the information and share with you the facts, plain and simple and some ways you can work to avoid this problem in your daily life.
The findings of several large scale studies have shown the following correlations between sitting and disease:
- Sitting increases the risk of obesity: The obvious link here is the reduced energy expenditure and increased sedentary lifestyle which has very obvious links to obesity. The interesting thing though is that research done at Mayo Clinic found that if they increased people calorific intake by 1000 kcals daily over a few weeks, those that sat for longer gained more weight, even though all subjects were not allowed to exercise or do any over strenuous work. Simply being on their feet more reduced or stopped weight gain.
- Prolonged periods of sitting increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes: Diabetologia recently published an article which accumulated the results of more than 18 studies and encompassed more than 800,000 people. In all cases those who sat the most (more than 6 hours daily) were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who were more active.
- Sitting increases the risk of spinal injury: This comes down to two things, pressure and posture. When you sit in a slouched posture you are not firing the correct muscles to properly support your spine, your glutes switch off and your core musculature relaxes leaving the spine to flop into the chair. Even though you may feel no pressure, the resulting shape of the spine and spinal disk alignment means you are likely doing damage at some level. Long term result is 1 of 2 things; either you suffer from a stiff or sore back like a chronic illness, or you develop a bad posture and a poor spinal position that when under load, say lifting your child, increases the pressure on the spine beyond the breaking point and you pop, crush or slip a disk,,, or worse.
- Highly sedentary lifestyles are heavily associated with depression: A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine followed 9000 women, determined that those who sat longer and did not meet the daily exercise requirements suffered from depression at much higher levels than those women with more active lifestyles. They found that sitting for more than 7 hours almost doubles the risk of developing a severe case of depression when compared to 4 hours or fewer.
- Prolonged periods of sitting increased your risk of developing Colon cancer: According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (examining over 4 million people, and over 68,000 cancer cases) prolonged periods of sitting, even in active individuals increased the risk of developing Colon cancer, and to a lesser extent lung cancer. They noted that with every 2 hour increase in sitting time the risk increased.
- Frequent sitting is associated with increased risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (examining over 120,000 individuals) found that people who were sedentary for 6 or more hours per day died earlier than those individuals who sat for 3 hours or less per day, following a 14 year follow up study. The alarming thing is that all individuals involved were considered healthy prior to the study taking place.
Alright take a moment and breathe, DON’T PULL UP A CHAIR. Get up take a walk around, digest the information and grab some water. Okay so now hopefully you get it, sitting is bad. But what counts as sitting and how can you reduce or avoid sitting. Can you undo the effects?
The good news is yes. Yes you can, but you have to make an effort.
When it comes to the solutions there are 3 main ones that come to mind.
The first is one proposed by Dr Kelly Starrett in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard, in which he suggests that every 30 minutes of sitting be balanced with at least 4 minutes of spinal based mobilization. Or in other words for every 30 minutes spent sitting you should stretch, foam roll or get some massage therapy done to help your spine and joint loosen up. Be that on your back, hips, neck, shoulders, glutes. He also suggests adopting a stronger core position when sitting or sitting with core tension and good posture. Glutes and core muscles braced, heal and neck stacked above the spine and shoulders down and back. This will help to reduce the risk of spinal injury mostly but by adopting this posture you may also help with depression and anxiety as your body and nervous system works in stronger positions.
The second best tip I can give is to simply sit less. Think about it in your own typical day. how much time do you spend in a chair. At the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner? On the couch watching movies and TV. On your laptop on computer. In the car or on the bus or train to and from work. At work? The hours quickly pile up. What you need to do then is adapt. Can you use the 45 minutes of watching your favorite show to stretch, and do some core strengthening exercises at home? Could you walk or cycle to work? Can you stand at your desk? get up and move around regularly at work, e.g taking calls, making notes, brain storming? Do what you can to reduce your sitting time and make it fun. Even better try doing something active in the evenings or on your lunch break, go for a walk, go to the gym, swim, play sport just keep that body moving.
Finally a great tip is to try to change position often, even if it is a little, the movement helps keep the blood flowing, muscles working and spine in motion. It has often been said that the best position for your spine is the ‘next’ one. In other words the spine should be kept in motion. Try to get up every 15 minutes and walk around the office, get up of the couch in the add break. Lie down, shimmy, and wiggle when you can. But keep moving.
Sitting is a problem and is becoming more and more so as we move into an ever more online, plugged in, automated world. But just remember you are a human being, you were built to run, jump, swim, play, dance and MOVE. So get up and do it. Your body will thank you.