It is estimated that over 50 percent of the work force sits for the majority of their day. This list includes office workers, computer programmers, bus drivers, truck drivers, lawyers, dentists and more. We sit when we commute to work, we sit when we are at work, we sit when we get home from work. Never before has our world seen such an epidemic that relates to our backsides. More and more studies are coming out revealing the potentially deadly side-effects of sitting for too long. This article is going to examine the stresses related to sitting and how we can improve our health as individuals and as a community.
Henry Ford thought that everyone would one day use a car. Microsoft’s Bill Gates once proclaimed that he wanted a computer on every desk and in every home. Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis thought that every business person should have a Blackberry. None of these individuals could have imagined what effect all of these things together would have on the health of our nation. The technological advancements of the last 100 years have lead to poorer health – but hey, at least we can check our emails and order pizza while watching the Bachelor all without moving a muscle.
A landmark study came out of the University of Sydney in 2012. It observed over 220,000 people who sat for either less than four hours per day, between 4-8 hours, or greater than 11 hours per day. Those who sat for greater than 11 hours had a 40% increased chance of death within the following 3 years. If that doesn’t get your attention, let me make it clearer. Sitting is killing you.
In 2005, Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) which describes how children are spending more and more time indoors. While the reasons for this outdoor aversion are aplenty, the affinity of “the screen” is one of them. So what is happening to our young? They are learning from an early age that sitting is ok. We need to act now to promote activity so that 40 years from now when the University of Sydney repeats their study, the results have changed.
What happens to our bodies when we sit? Immediately upon sitting, our metabolism slows by approximately one-third. Sitting for 24 hours will cause a 40% decrease in insulin sensitivity, eventually leading to Type-2 diabetes. Within 5 days of becoming sedentary (>6 hours per day of sitting), we produce more triglycerides (fat) and LDLs (bad cholesterol). These early changes are responsible for the weight gain often seen in the sedentary crowd. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center notes that “Being only 10 pounds over weight increases the force on the knee by 30-60 pounds with each step.”
But wait! There’s hope. All research tends to point to the fact that if we break up our time sitting, we can avoid all of these terrible risks. An Australian study notes that getting up for 5 minutes per hour can reduce the negative effects that sitting has on our bodies. Dr. Brian Parr from the University of South Carolina notes that short bursts of exercise of 5-10 minutes duration are manageable and don’t require packing your bag and going to the gym. He notes that setting an hourly “stand-up” timer while at work will provide us the necessary reminder to avoid being sedentary. Also, during commercial breaks while watching TV, get up and march in spot for 30 seconds, bend over and touch your toes for 30 seconds, do jumping jacks for 30 seconds.
Just as our previous generations have learned the negative effects of asbestos, cigarette smoke and UV rays, we are now learning of the dangers of sitting. Although our environment is promoting more and more “screen time,” we have the capability to change the current trend. If you or a loved one is in the 11+ hour category, the time to act is now. If you see that your children are spending fewer hours outside playing, encourage their activity levels to increase by becoming a role-model yourself. If you simply want to ensure a longer, healthier life, get out there and start moving today! As author Frank Forencich proclaimed, “sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health!”
Dr. Mark Guker is a chiropractor and owner of ReAlign Heath on Eagle Street in Cambridge. For more information visit http://www.realignhealth.com or follow him on Twitter @drmarkguker.