How Would you like to Increase Your Life Expectancy by Sitting Less Than Three Hours a Day?
And…..are you an office worker or do you sit for much of your working day?
Then I hate to be the bearer of bad news but an alarming study about Occupational Sitting and Health Risks published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, has found that older women who sit for extended periods of time were more likely to have an early death from all causes, including cancer and heart disease (and don’t think for a minute this only refers to women).
In the report “Sitting” was defined as driving to work, reclining on the couch watching TV and sitting behind a work desk.
Another study carried out on 105 full time office workers found the sitting workers were three times more likely to have waist circumferences that were over 31 inches or 80 cm for women and 37 inches or 94 cm for men.
Larger waist circumference is associated with heightened risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.
The workers were also found to be 9 times more likely to have a body mass index (BMI) over 30, which categorizes them as obese.
In yet another study, people who sat for hours at a time were found to have a bigger waist circumference, higher insulin levels and lower HDL cholesterol.
Further proof is provided in this April 2019 TIME article; Americans are Sitting at Record Rates. Here’s why that’s So Dangerous.
The same TIME article also goes on to mention that sitting too long is linked to chronic diseases that can lead to early death. “Many studies show that TV or video watching time is most strongly associated with chronic disease and increases risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and overall mortality,” says Cao. “We found that a lot of people, around 60%, are watching two hours or more every day.”
So you can see, there is no end of evidence that many of us are slowly killing ourselves unnecessarily when there is an easy solution.
Why Is Sitting Bad For Your Health?
It’s not new information in the sense that a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with a number of chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and type 2 Diabetes.
The life-threatening news that everyone who sits for more than three hours per day needs to come to grips with is, what happens to your body when you sit all day?
Fortunately, you can do something about it.
Dr Mercola from Peak Fitness tells us, “Evidence shows that prolonged sitting is devastating your health. It actively promotes dozens of chronic diseases, which includes becoming overweight and type 2 diabetes, even if you’re very fit.”
The good doctor also goes on to say, “the average American office worker can sit for 13 to 15 hours a day and research shows that vigorous exercise cannot counteract the adverse effects of this prolonged sitting.
More than likely you can avoid most of the damage from excessive sitting if you sit less than three hours a day.”
It is only in recent years that the relationship between hours of sitting and premature death has been investigated. When we’re sitting we burn fewer calories, we don’t ask our muscles to do anything, and often, when we’re sitting around we’re snacking too (and usually on the wrong foods).
When we sit our metabolism slows down, the connective tissue in our bodies becomes tighter and our circulation becomes constricted (which is one of the most common causes of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) while sitting – (see ‘authors note’ at the end of this article).
While all this is happening the brain is deprived of the nutrients and oxygenated blood it needs to function optimally.
Health Risks of Sitting at a Desk all Day – it’s the Curse of the Modern Office Worker
Sitting in a “bad” chair can make things even worse. There’s the collective discomfort from a number of problems including tired, aching shoulders and neck muscles, a sore back and painful knees.
Working on computers tends to make us slouch, as we try to get closer to the screen. We also tense the facial muscles, squint our eyes and put our necks under strain.
And, when you consider that most people spend an average of 9.3 hours a day sitting (plus another 7.7 hours a day sleeping), that one hour work out you just manage to squeeze in (or don’t) suddenly seems rather inadequate.
And even people who do perform regular work-outs put their health at risk by sitting for prolonged periods of time.
Of course, those at greatest risk are workers who have desk-bound jobs. A minimum of eight hours a day just being in the office chair, sedentary, before adding commuting time and TV relaxation.
So, if you do have a desk job, do you have any options?
Can Exercise Balls Help?
Well, firstly an exercise ball (or Swiss Ball) has been regarded by some as an ergonomically better choice for sitting on, especially for people who have problems with their joints.
Because of the instability of an exercise ball, the back muscles have to keep working all the time, which has led us to believe that exercise balls are more beneficial than office chairs.
But surprisingly, under scientific study it has been found that people who sit on exercise balls can experience the same degree of muscular activation and compression as people sitting on ordinary chairs.
Good for short periods of time to reactivate the stabilizing muscles but after more than 30 minutes you will tend to tire, your posture becomes sloppy and you are back to square one.
What about Standing Desks and Treadmills?
Office studies have found that in companies where standing desks were used, workers were more likely to stand than to sit, which requires the muscles to keep working and improves the circulation. Standing however, does not give you the same benefits as actively moving around (but it is a step forward).
Treadmill desks have also picked up in popularity. Unfortunately, these are expensive and not necessarily practical for every company out there. And, unless you are training for a sports event, it’s likely that you could wear yourself out completely before five o’clock comes around.
So how do you deal with the problem if you can’t afford a treadmill desk and have an office job?
Awareness is your first step when contemplating the health risks of sitting at a desk all day.
Set an alarm to go off every 30 to 60 minutes while you’re at your desk. When this happens get up and do some stretching. Go for a short walk to get your blood flowing again, do some toe raises, lunges or squats. Just a few minutes are enough to rejuvenate your body.
There is just one practice I have great trouble coming to grips with. Many Companies allow smokers to have a smoke break. Why?
If these people were banned from these breaks and all staff were given regular exercise breaks Companies would save a stack of money by having happier healthier staff and there would be far less sick days. Something worth thinking about if you are a manager (and don’t mind rocking the boat)?
Here’s a Life Hack Worth Learning about the Long Term Effects of Sitting
Consider the walking meeting.
“Exercise” is considered a dirty word by a lot of ambitious, high performing professionals because they do not consider it directly “productive” or beneficial to their bottom line.
How wrong these people are.
So, think about scheduling one walking meeting a week. If you consider how many hours you spend in meetings and how many hours you do not exercise at all, when you combine them you can literally kill two birds with one stone.
Remember that 30 minutes brisk walking every day is actually your minimum quota to protect you against cardiovascular disease, and most of us don’t get that in. If your excuse is because you are “too busy” or “don’t have the time”, the walking meeting should be a regular occurrence on your agenda.
You can expect your fair share of passes on a walking meeting, especially from people who consider themselves unfit, but you will get some takers and, if you can inform and protect someone else from an early death (as well as yourself), isn’t it worth making the effort?
Ultimately, anything is better than sitting and, whether you opt for standing more, exercise breaks every hour or you embrace the walking meeting, just make sure you reduce your sitting time as much as possible. The benefit will be much healthier staff all round.
Of course, there will be times when you will have to sit, and these are the factors you should think about when you know your derriere is going to be firmly planted for a while.
Choose a chair that will reduce the pressure on your body.
Look for a chair that minimizes tension and points of contact with the body’s soft tissue.
Consider a chair that reduces the physical stress of desk-based tasks, like writing and reading on a computer.
And if you work in an office and spend endless hours in front of a computer screen then I encourage you to have a look at these workplace exercises and do them every hour or so – they are designed to help ward off the onset of DVT: 5 Easy Exercises to do While Sitting at Work (or at Home).
Now it’s easy for you to see why: “Sitting is the Smoking of our (current) generation.” – Nilofer Merchant
The reason I felt so compelled to write this article is because of what you might call ‘a near family tragedy’.
My son who (at the time of writing) is in his early thirties, is very fit and healthy, eats well and surfs almost daily, was recently struck down with DVT – four blood clots in his leg.
This could well have been ‘goodbye cruel world’ but fortunately for us, his wonderful sister and her family and his beautiful wife and little daughters, he is now, nearly twelve months later, back in the best of health.
Working as the Digital Marketing Director for a large company, Jake spends long hours in front of a computer screen not moving…..but he does now. Once bitten twice shy.
This is just one isolated case I have been a part of but knew very little about before it happened. So please like and share the link to this article with all your friends and family who sit for long periods…….it could save the life of a loved one.
So please……help save someone else from this dreadful life threatening health problem – like and share.
Thank you – John – your Active Ageing Mentor and Coach.
For some more informative reading on the dangers of too much sitting check out this article by Tony at guysandgoodhealth – Do You Know the Dangers of too Much Sitting – it is well worth a quick read.
P.S. Help a friend to better health and fitness – like and share. Thanks.
Toni Taylor says
Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post. Like your son, I sit all day at my computer. I’m a graphic and web designer and work from home. I’m a single mom so working from home allows me to be the stay-at-home mom I want to be while homeschooling my daughter. Unfortunately, the last few weeks I’ve been noticing some ankle swelling and circulation issues after sitting all day. I’m no dummy! This means I need to get up and get moving!
I just read Chris Kresser’s post on treadmill desks (which is how I found your blog) and I’m looking into getting this set up in my office. In the meantime, I’ve set up alerts to remind me to get up and take a walk. I figure for every 30 minutes of work, I can do 15 minutes of walking, stretching, lunging or something!!
Thanks for the great post…and inspiration!
John Falkinder says
Thanks for your comments Toni and I am pleased I was able to inspire you to change your sitting habits.
I am sure you will feel much better for the changes you are making within a month or so and hopefully it saves you from any of the problems my Jake had.
Please feel free to keep spreading the word as the more people who become aware of the possible long term problems of sitting and not exercising the more people we can help and maybe even save a life or two.
Cheers – John F