Sitting Down May Be Killing You

Are you sitting down? If so, you may be putting your health at risk.

Scientists have determined that the more you sit during the day, the more likely you are to become ill and die early. Whether you are working at your computer, driving home or catching some late night television, all that sitting is deadly.

Throughout most of human history, we have been very active. In order to get to another place, we walked. In order to have food to eat, we had to coax it from the ground with lots of hard work and sweat, or we had to chase it down and kill it. Only in the last several decades have we become such a sedentary people, but all our ease comes at great cost to our health and our lives: people who sit for several hours each day are at an increased risk of obesity, heart attack, diabetes and even early death.

The good news is that you can significantly reduce your risk of illness simply by getting up and moving!

Why is sitting so dangerous?

According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, sitting for long periods of time causes the body to release harmful signals which begin to shut down the regulation of glucose and insulin. The author of the study, Elin Ekblom-Bak of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, believes that the resulting increase in metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and death calls for a redefining of our use of the term "sedentary." According to Elin Ekblom-Bak, "Until now, the expression "sedentary behaviour" has misleadingly been used as a synonym for not exercising. Sedentary time should be defined as muscular inactivity rather than the absence of exercise." 1

In other words, rather than defining sedentary as 'not exercising,' the term should encompass the whole concept of being still–muscular inactivity. Because the issue at hand isn't just that we aren't exercising. The issue is that we aren't moving around much at all.

David W. Dunstan, PhD, reported in the journal Diabetes Care that prolonged sitting after a meal resulted in spikes of blood glucose and insulin in overweight individuals. Participants who got up and walked around after the meal, however, had spikes that were 24% smaller.2 This makes sense because muscle contractions are what assist the uptake of glucose out of the blood stream and into the muscles. If the muscles are not contracting, then it is going to be more difficult to move the glucose out of the blood. The body will need more insulin to get it done, and glucose will spend a longer time in the blood stream waiting to be cleared out.

According to a study of over fifty thousand Americans, women who sit for longer than six hours each day have a 40% increased risk of dying earlier than those who sit for less than three hours each day; the risk for men is 20%. And the real clincher? You aren't exempt if you exercise every day. Even people who exercise each day are at risk.3

Don't take it sitting down

If you are like the many people who are accustomed to sitting down for much of the day, it is not too late to change your habits and make a profound impact on your health.

One of the first things to keep in mind is that it is not enough to just exercise every day. You need to incorporate what scientists call non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT refers to your total energy expenditure throughout the day other than voluntary and intentional sporting exercise.5 It's the difference between getting up and walking to your co-worker's office (rather than sending an email) versus a thirty minute run on a treadmill.

For example, when you park far away from the store so you can walk a few extra steps, you are increasing your daily NEAT. It is this extra activity that will keep you from being part of that segment of the population that is defined as the "new-sedentary."

Here are some other ideas to help you reduce your sitting-time:

Take the stairs. Whenever possible, use the stairs instead of the elevator or the escalator. Taking the stairs in the workplace has been shown to reduce waist circumference, body weight, fat mass, diastolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.5

Take walk breaks. In order to reduce the spikes in your blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal, you do not have to engage in vigorous exercise; you simply need to get up and walk around. Additionally, try getting up every twenty minutes and walking around your home or office.

Use a tread desk. The new trend in office equipment is the tread desk. By simply placing a platform over your treadmill, you can keep working while you slowly walk. The platform provides a place to set your computer, phone and printer.

The idea is to break up the time you spend sitting. Set a timer to remind yourself if you have to, but get up and move. It is a great way to keep yourself healthy and maybe even extend your life!

1 Elin E Bak, Mai- L Hell%uFFFDnius, Bj%uFFFDrn Ekblom. Are we facing a new paradigm of inactivity physiology? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2010; published online. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2010/01/21/bjsm.2009.067702
2 David W. Dunstan, PHD, Bronwyn A. Kingwell, PHD, Robyn Larsen, PHD, Genevieve N. Healy, PHD, Ester Cerin, PHD, Marc T. Hamilton, PHD, Jonathan E. Shaw, MD, David A. Bertovic, FRACP, Paul Z. Zimmet, MD, Jo Salmon, PHD and Neville Owen, PHD. Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Responses. Diabetes Care. 2012; published online. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2012/02/22/dc11-1931
3 Alpa V. Patel, Leslie Bernstein, Anusila Deka, Heather Spencer Feigelson, Peter T. Campbell, Susan M. Gapstur, Graham A. Colditz and Michael J. Thun. Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2010; Volume 172, Issue 4: Pages 419-429. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/172/4/419.full
4 James A. Levine, Mark W. Vander Weg, James O. Hill, and Robert C. Klesges. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon of Societal Weight Gain. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2006; Volume 26: Pages 729-736. http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/26/4/729.full
5 Philippe Meyer, Bengt Kayser, Michel P. Kossovsky, Philippe Sigaud, David Carballo, Pierre-F. Keller, Xavier Eric Martin, Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, claude Pichard and Francois Mach. Stairs instead of elevators at workplace: cardioprotective effects of a pragmatic intervention. European Society of Cardiology. Wolters Kluwer Heath. 2010; http://www.centreepic.org/files/pdf/Recherche/2010_Meyer_P_Stairs_instead_of_elevators_intervention.pdf
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