You’ve all heard it by now: Sitting is the new smoking. Sounds pretty ominous, especially if you think smoking is bad for you (and it is). But it took decades for people to finally understand the dangers of smoking, and even still, cigarettes continue to sell. And now, sitting for too long has become the new dangerous habit. And just as it was when doctors warned of the hazards of smoking, most people are having a very hard time buying into that claim. After all, everyone sits. It’s what we do in our modern society. Our jobs demand it. And heck, it’s easy to do. How bad can sitting be, really?
Numerous studies have revealed that humans are not meant to be sedentary. In fact, these studies have also shown that we need regular, vigorous activity to stay healthy. But there are also thousands of studies that have measured the direct effects of sitting on our health.
For example, men who sit for more than 6 hours per day are 20% more likely to die prematurely than those who sit for just 3 hours per day. But, in actuality, the average man sits for more than 9 hours per day when you consider and sum up the sitting hours involved in work, driving, and watching TV at night.
People who sit most of the day are twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease. And contrary to popular belief, exercising does not counter the effects of sitting most of the day. At least two recent studies have confirmed that even working out 5 days per week did nothing to neutralize the negative effects of sitting most of the day.
Why, then, is excessive sitting so bad for our bodies? Immediately upon sitting, electrical activity in the legs turns off. Calorie burning drops to 1 per minute. Enzyme activity that normally breaks down fat for energy, drops by 90%. After two hours, HDL cholesterol drops 20%. After 24 hours, insulin sensitivity drops 24% and the risk of diabetes rises. People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease than people with standing jobs.
So what can one do? Over the years there have been numerous tips and tricks that have been proposed to help desk jockeys combat the effects of being sedentary. The good news is, most of them can help. Doing almost anything to stimulate better blood flow, especially in the legs and lower back, can help mitigate some of the effects of just sitting all day.
But the key is doing these things on a regular basis. Getting up from your desk a couple of times per day is not going to cut it. Does that mean standing all day is the answer? There have been numerous desk alternatives made and sold that are supposed to solve the problem of sitting all day. But studies also show that standing still all day causes other problems, and lessens productivity as people get uncomfortable after standing for too long. Standing for too long also negatively affects posture which creates other problems.
If you’re going to use a standing desk, be sure to balance out your standing vs. sitting. Some studies show that standing 40% of time and sitting 60% of the time is a pretty good ratio. One desk that makes it easier to accomplish this is the Varidesk. This desk meets the needs of the sitter and the stander, making it easier to get your standing time in without forcing you to stay up the whole time.
Another option is to spend about 10 minutes per hour standing or walking. Just getting up from your desk and doing something besides sitting will help tremendously. One way to sneak this time in is to have “standing meetings” or walking meetings. When you take a phone call, walk around. You don’t have to stay seated to talk on the phone.
The key is to interrupt your sitting time whenever and however you can. Even a few minutes of restored circulation to your legs can make a huge difference.
And last but not least, keep in mind that the negative effects of sitting are cumulative. So even if you get up from your desk every hour at work, going home and sitting on the couch all night is also bad for you and adds to the problem of your desk job. And while the studies show that exercising alone does not completely counter the effects of sitting all day, it is still good for you and we should still do it. So get to the gym and do your workouts, and maybe even pick up a hobby or two that require you to be up and moving instead of watching TV on the couch.