Sitting was recently dubbed the “new smoking”, but is it really all that bad?
It seems so.
Research shows that sitting for most of the day increases your risk of developing a range of health problems. From shortened leg and gluteal muscles to heart disease, diabetes, DVT and decreased life expectancy, the risks are numerous and serious.
What the Research Tells Us About Long Periods of Sitting
In the Western world, adults spend between 55-70% of their day being sedentary which equates to 9-11 hours of sitting. An Australian study showed that high amounts of daily sitting time is linked to greater risk of dying from all-causes and accounts for 7% of all deaths in adults aged 45 years plus
According to the Heart Foundation, adults should minimise the amount of time spent in the sitting or lying position for prolonged periods during waking hours. The evidence shows that adults who sit less during the day have a lower risk of early death, particularly from heart disease. Replacing the sedentary lifestyle with an active one will also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and being overweight.
Why Sitting for Long Periods is So Bad for You
You may think that if you exercise once or twice per day, it will balance out all of the sitting you do for the rest of the day. However, this seems to not be the case.
As research scientist and author Dr Joan Vernikos points out, all-day movement is more important to good health than an isolated, single exercise session. In her book Sitting Kills Moving Heals, Vernikos uses her experience at NASA to explain that the hours spent sitting are making people fatter, sicker and more depressed despite the increasing number of gyms being opened.
Sitting in the same position for long periods can cause musculoskeletal problems such as neck and back injuries. In the seated position, there is more stress on back muscles, the neck and spine. Getting up for a minute or two throughout the day will give these muscles a break.
Blood is likely to pool in your legs when they are bent in the seated position. This could lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) which is dangerous if a blood clot breaks off and lodges in your lungs. Varicose veins are also more likely if you sit for long periods.
The risk of cancer increases the longer you spend sitting. Research has linked everything from colon, breast, endometrial and lung cancer to a sedentary lifestyle.
What Can You Do to Reduce the Health Risks of Sitting All Day?
As we have seen, the research suggests that simply being active before or after work isn’t enough to reduce the risks of sitting down for most of the day. There are some ways to reduce those risks though:
Make Time to Get Up And Move Regularly at Work
When you’re busy, it’s easy for the hours to fly by without realising you haven’t moved from the same spot. Use a timer so you keep track of how long you have been sitting.
Try using the Pomodoro Technique - set a timer to work for 25 minutes then take a 2-minute break to walk around the office before starting work again. Studies have shown that taking short breaks to walk resulted in lower blood sugar levels and improved cardiovascular function. Can’t walk around at work? Even standing up and stretching for a few minutes is better than nothing.
Another benefit of Pomodoro is being more productive. Millions of people around the world swear by it as a productivity hack that helps them get more done. Win-win!
Get a Sit-Stand Desk
A sit-stand desk gives you the flexibility of alternating between sitting and standing during the workday. In a Deakin University study, workers who used a sit stand desk over a 12-month trial had lower glucose and fat levels than those that sat all day. Economic modelling shows that if standing desks were given to 20% of office workers, Australia could save $84 million in health care costs over their lifetime.
Worried about the impact of sitting all day on your health? Consider upgrading to a height-adjustable standing desk with an ergonomic office chair to give yourself a healthier work environment.