Our bodies were designed to move.  That is how we evolved as a species. It is only very recently with the technological advances of the past century or so that we started living a more sedentary lifestyle, and it’s killing us.  Sitting too much greatly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Even if you go to the gym four times a week and eat healthy foods, sitting too much will still increase your risk of these deadly diseases.  A recent study published in The Journal of American College Cardiology “indicated that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.” In fact, if you sit for more than six hours a day, your risk of heart disease goes up 64%.  The problem is that when we sit down, our body sort of goes into sleep mode like a computer would and, it turns out, too much sleep mode is no good for our bodies.  Our circulation slows down, our metabolism slows down, and the enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%, including the enzyme that breaks down the fats (lipids) in the blood stream, which could be why prolonged sitting is associated with such a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what to do?  The solution is actually not as daunting as one might think.  All you need to do is add more moderate activity into your daily routine and break up your periods of sitting down.  Moderate activity is not equivalent to killing it in the gym, but rather more like a brisk walk.  (For optimal health, you need both, one does not replace the other.)  Some of our sedentary time cannot be helped, like when we are driving.  But time in front of the TV, for instance, is optional and can be shortened.  Also, you don’t have to be sitting the whole time when you do watch it.  You can walk briskly on a treadmill, for instance, while you watch your favorite program.  Alternatively, foam rolling is a great practice you can adopt while watching TV, and it’s much less expensive than a treadmill.  (Foam rollers typically retail between $20 & $40.  It is a great self-massage tool that activates your muscles at the same time.)  You can also periodically stand up and do jumping jacks or squats or lunges.

Many people find that most of their sedentary time is due to their line of work which has them sitting at their desk, in front of the computer for most of the day.  However, that, too, has a pretty easy fix.  All you have to do is get up and move every 20 – 30 minutes.  If it’s helpful, set a timer on your computer to remind you.  It’s not enough to just stand up; you have to move to get the circulation flowing in your body again.  Some other tips for sedentary office work are:

  • If you are doing something in your office that doesn’t require you to be seated, such as talking on the phone for instance, get up out of your chair and pace the room during the conversation.
  • Rather than send an email to your co-worker down the hall, get up and go talk to her.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator if you have one in your building.
  • Take a few 10 minute brisk walks throughout the day.
  • Get a ball chair, which keeps your leg muscles more active, your back more straight, and decreases the risk of getting too comfortable.  (We do not recommend a standing desk, because standing is not moving and prolonged standing without movement carries its own health risks.)

Sources:   NY Times, The Hazards of the Couch by Roni Caryn Rabin

How Sitting All Day is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It by Thorin Klosowski, Lifehacker

Women’s Health Magazine, Your Body’s Biggest Enemy, by Selene Yeager