Some days, I look forward to finishing work, putting my feet up, and relaxing with a cup of hot tea and a good book. There’s nothing wrong with that picture — except that for most of the day, I’m seated, in front of a computer. More sitting is the last thing I need.
Danger — Too Much Sitting
It turns out that too much sitting has been linked with serious health risks:
- An analysis of 8 studies found that risk of Type 2 diabetes increased by 20% and risk of CHD increased by 15% with every 2 hours of TV watching.
- In a large, 12-year prospective study, researchers found a strong link between daily sitting time and death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease — and that’s after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, smoking status, alcohol intake, and physical activity.
- The startling conclusion: Regular physical activity doesn’t cancel out the negative effects of too much sitting.
- Men who reported spending more than 10 hours a week riding in cars showed an 82% greater risk of dying compared with men who rode in cars less than 4 hours a week.
Inactivity physiology is a relatively new area of study, but we’re quickly learning just how harmful too much sitting can be. The good news is that one study has found a positive link between taking active breaks during extended sitting periods and metabolic biomarkers such as waist circumference, body mass index, triglycerides, and blood glucose.
I’m frustrated by the fact that even if I exercise pretty hard, 5-6 days a week, I still need to pay attention to how much I sit. But the research is compelling — for optimal health and longevity, we need to 1) exercise regularly, and 2) sit less; it’s not one or the other. And, honestly, the less I sit, the better I feel.
Here are a few ways I’m sitting less these days:
- Break up desk time. I get up frequently to refill my water or tea, and stand up and pace when I’m on a phone call. I’m a telecommuter, but this can still work at a traditional workplace.
- Relax actively. A 30-minute walk is wonderfully relaxing for me. I also play with my dogs, or play catch with my kids.
- Break up screen time. When we watch a movie, activity breaks are a must – walking around the house, a few jumping jacks, or stretching. We’ll also watch half of a movie one night and half another night. It all helps to break up sitting time.
There’s some sitting we all have to do — so it’s important to cut back wherever we can. Keep exercising, but also keep a sitting log this week — find out how much you’re sitting each day, and then aim to cut back by 10-20%. Your life could very well depend on it.
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.
- Grøntved A, Hu FB. Television viewing and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2011 Jun 15;305(23):2448-55. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21673296
- Katzmarzyk et al., Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):998-1005. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19346988
- Warren TY, et al., Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(5)879-85 http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2010/05000/Sedentary_Behaviors_Increase_Risk_of.6.aspx
- Healy GN, et al., Breaks in sedentary time: Beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care. 2008;31(4):661-6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18252901