Sitting is the New Smoking - Really!

04/05/2016

Healthy Living - April 5, 2016
Amy Movius, MD
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Too much sitting is seriously bad for your health. The sobering fact is that prolonged sitting shortens lifespan. Compounding this unsettling truth is that we live in a world where prolonged sitting is encouraged, or even mandated. We sit when we commute, when we need to do anything at a desk (think work and school), and very often when we have free time - we sit or recline while watching TV. The average person in the US sits more than nine hours a day!
 
Sitting - like smoking - is an independent health risk factor. This means that it is as bad for athletes or fit people who otherwise sit a lot as it is for non-exercisers. Another way to think about it is this: exercising for an hour a day or being a normal weight doesn’t “protect” you from sitting.  Research has found that active people can be just as sedentary as a typical “couch potato” when not engaged in exercise. Even the highest level of exercisers did not have decreased sitting time. Ironically there is some evidence that regular exercisers may put less effort into non-exercise activity than people who don’t exercise at all. One article termed these individuals “active couch potatoes”. Unless you have a job that requires you to move around, chances are you are sitting too much regardless of how regularly you go to the gym.
 
The negative health effects associated with sitting include heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression. And it is associated with shorter lifespan from “all causes”. A study published in February 2016 found that every extra hour spent sitting was associated with an increased risk of diabetes, independent of high intensity exercise. The mechanism by which sitting does such harm isn’t clear.
 
Fortunately, it is much easier to counter the effects of prolonged sitting than it is to quit smoking. 

1. Take standing or walking breaks from sitting every hour; just 1-3 minutes seems to be protective. Reminding yourself with timers or alarms can be helpful and there are several apps available for this as well. If you can’t stand up, at least change your position frequently.
2. Stand when you don't have to sit at work - such as when having a conversation with a coworker or talking on the phone.  
3. When watching TV, stand up whenever the commercials are on.  
4. Use standing desks if available.
5. For encouragement, remember that merely standing uses 30% more calories than sitting, and that can really add up!

So whether you're a jock, or a bookworm, or a knitter, or an executive - stand up for yourself! Maybe take a short walk while you’re at it :)
 
References:
1.Too Much Sitting Linked to Heart Disease, Diabetes, Premature Death by June Corliss January 22, 2015  www.health.harvard.edu/blog
 2. More Evidence that Sitting Too Much is Bad, Ups Diabetes Risk  Veronica  Hackenthal MD,  February 3, 2016  www.medscape.com