Yes, I know. It seems like everything is a potential killer nowadays.
But, this one is particularly disconcerting for many of us.
You see, for years we’ve been led to believe that as long as we follow a regular exercise program, our health should be okay.
At least, it should be much better than those who don’t follow a regular exercise program.
Makes sense, but it’s not telling the whole story.
The sobering news I’m bringing to you today, is that your basic exercise regimen may not be enough. Depressing, or what?
So, what’s the problem?
Well, according to recent research, sitting a lot is bad for our health. Much worse than what we’ve understood up to now.
It’s so bad, that even if you do meet the recommended amount of exercise each week, but are otherwise pretty sedentary, you’re still not doing enough to prevent disease caused by lack of activity.
Many of us have sedentary jobs, where we sit at desks all day long.
Then, we come home to more sedentary activities, such as eating and watching television. For the health conscious among us, there may be 30 minutes of activity thrown in somewhere, too.
So, for office workers who exercise, the day breaks down something like this…
You do 30 minutes of exercise, and sleep 8 hours at night. That leaves 15.5 hours in your day.
If you spend most of those remaining 15.5 hours in front of a computer screen, and a few more on the couch watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns, this is where the problems comes in.
Because, when you add it all up, that’s a lot more sitting than standing or moving.
There have been a number of studies on the topic of inactive lifestyles in recent years.
1. Heart Disease Risk
One of those studies, which looked at men and their risk of dying from heart disease, calculated how much time they spent sitting in cars, at their desks, and in front of the television.
The researchers found those who sat most were more likely to die prematurely.
They found that men who reported more than 23 hours of sedentary activity per week had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease, compared to those who reported less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity.
2. Improved Measurements
An earlier Australian study found that those who regularly broke up their sedentary time with movement, had healthier waist circumferences, body mass index, and triglyceride levels, than those who did not take breaks during long periods of sitting.
3. Activity Levels
A Finnish study demonstrated that exercise for fitness, regardless of its duration, does not decrease the overall time spent being inactive, during a normal day.
They concluded it is possible to make an improvement, however, with only slight modifications in daily activities.
4. Television Screen Time
Another study found that each hour spent in front of the television was associated with an 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes.
A 9 percent increased risk of death related to cancer.
And, a 18 percent increased risk of death related to cardiovascular disease.
While the study focused specifically on television watching, the findings suggest that any prolonged sedentary behavior, such as sitting at a desk, may pose a risk to your long-term health.
5. Mortality Risk
A further Australian study concluded that,
Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity. Public health programs should focus on reducing sitting time in addition to increasing physical activity levels. (Source)
Why Is My Job Killing Me?
As yet, we’re not entirely certain why sitting is so bad for our health.
But, if you think about it, sitting is one of the most passive things you can do.
You actually burn more energy by fidgeting or chewing gum, than you do sitting still in a chair.
Major Muscle Group Inactivity
One reason for these ill effects, may be the inactivity of the larger muscle groups, when you sit for a prolonged period.
Our muscles make up a large part of the body, and are critical in regulating carbohydrate and fat metabolism, etc.
When those major muscle groups (e.g. the gluteus maximus) aren’t moving, metabolism slows down and you don’t use much energy.
The knock-on effect of this is the potential to gain weight easily, making you more prone to the health problems that fatness brings.
Reduce Sitting Time
The main message coming from these studies seems to be that we all need to reduce our sitting time throughout the day, even if we exercise regularly.
If your job requires a lot of sitting, that can be difficult.
But, it is important to emphasize that even slight modification in your “inactive time” can make you healthier.
How To Move More Everyday
If you spend most of your day shifting from one chair to another, what can you do to get more movement into your day?
1. Add Hourly Movement
If you are mostly desk-bound, you need to be adding a few minutes of movement each hour.
Even if you are simply standing up to stretch, take a short walk to the printer, or even make a cup of tea, it’s better than nothing.
This also includes things like parking further away than you need to, using the stairs rather than the elevator, and walking over to a colleagues desk, instead of emailing or calling them.
While this may not sound like much, an Australian study found that 1 minute mini-breaks throughout the day, can actually make a difference.
Don’t worry if your colleagues laugh at your efforts — why not share this article, and help spread the health benefits with them, too ;-)
2. Walk At Lunchtime
This is particularly important if you tend to eat lunch at your desk.
Try making a date with yourself to get up and go out for lunch each day.
If you take lunch with you (and I encourage you to do that!), then take it to a local park to eat, rather than sitting inside.
You will feel so much better for it, both physically and mentally.
3. Use A Standing Desk
When the standing desk first came out, I thought it was a crazy idea.
But, after reviewing the evidence, I can really see the benefits.
Think about it, compared to sitting, standing in one place is hard work.
To stand, you have to tense your leg muscles, and use the muscles of your back and shoulders. You often shift from one leg to the other. And, all of this burns energy.
John Knox, creator of Rumsfeld Modern Standing Desk, says it can be hard to stand all day long, so you need work up to it.
He recommends moving your computer to a standing desk, and then back again, as an ideal place to begin.
Check out Leo’s standing experiment, where he lost 3 pounds, despite exercising less than usual, and making no changes to his diet.
Another idea is to replace your desk chair with a stability ball.
The benefit of sitting on an exercise ball, is that it will strengthen your core muscles, while also improving balance and flexibility.
Or, try a rocking chair to sit on at home.
Rocking involves a continuous gentle flexing of the muscles, which expends more energy than sitting still.
For tips on how to be more active, check out my readers best advice in the linked article.
How To Put This Into Practice
I think it’s very easy to get ingrossed in your work and forget the time.
Before you know it, a couple of hours have passed, and the only movement you’ve made is to flex your fingers across the keypad as you type.
So, I recommend using an online timer.
Set the timer to go off once each hour to remind you to get up for a short break.
Try standing and moving more often over the next couple of days, and then let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below.
How do you make sure you keep yourself moving throughout the day?
Note: If you enjoyed this article, sharing it (on Facebook, etc) is a great way to say ‘thank you’.