- The negative effects of sitting are shockingly similar to those of smoking, increasing your overall mortality by 50%.
- Sitting can also increase your risk of some cancers by up to 66%.
- If long periods of sitting is common for you, you are at risk of developing diabetes and having a cardiovascular event.
- Your metabolic function is severely impaired from prolonged sitting. This greatly increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
The Negative Effects Of Sitting
When I first read about the negative effects of sitting I was in disbelief. The simple act of sitting is being compared with awful habits such as smoking. There’s no way that’s right…right?
I was very surprised to discover that there’s an overwhelming amount of research supporting the claim that sitting is just as bad for you as smoking.
It’s true. Too much sitting can hinder your weight loss efforts, damage your muscle building potential, slow your metabolic functions, increase your risk of multiple types of cancer, and put you at risk of diabetes and heart problems.
Unfortunately, sitting is a big part of everyone’s life. We have breakfast sitting, we drive to work sitting, many of us sit all day at work, we drive home sitting, and then we relax on the couch while sitting.
Don’t despair. The problem is quite serious, but mitigating the problem is pretty simple. Sit less. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
But first, I’d like to get a little more specific.
Sitting & Disease
There are several worldwide studies showing that the negative effects of sitting include a myriad of illnesses and decreased general function. 1)https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20130221/too-much-sitting-linked-to-chronic-health-problems#1 2)https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005 3)http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0061723#s3
To drive the point home, I want to share some findings that were presented at the Inaugural Active Working Summit from 2015. There are some very surprising things here.
- Even when someone completes the recommended thirty minutes of daily exercise, sitting still significantly affects their risk of mortality.
- People who sit the longest have a 112% increase in risk of diabetes, and a 147% increase in risk of a cardiovascular event. Overall mortality risk is increased by 50% by those who sit the most.
- Prolonged sitting adversely affects glucose metabolism.
- Sitting can increase your risk of lung cancer by 54%, uterine cancer by 66%, and colon cancer by 30%. 4)http://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2015/01/21/sitting-ducks-sedentary-behaviour-and-its-health-risks-part-one-of-a-two-part-series/
Sitting has also been linked to:
- Worse mental health, a higher probability of being disabled, increased blood pressure, and weight gain. 5)https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20140407/sitting-disease-faq#1
- Type 2 diabetes. 6)https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/sitting-and-sedentary-behaviour-are-bad-for-your-health.aspx
- Increased anxiety. 7)https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sitting-health-effects_us_57b4b4e3e4b095b2f5421a58
- Inefficient digestion and metabolism. 8)https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/the-dangers-of-sitting
There is a plethora of clear evidence that shows various negative effects of sitting. A lot of these issues are the result of poor metabolic function.
Sitting And Poor Metabolic Function
Metabolism is an essential component of muscle growth, autophagy, weight loss, fitness, energy, long term health, and any type of hormonal function in the body.
“Metabolism is a term that is used to describe all chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and the organism. Metabolism can be conveniently divided into two categories:
- Catabolism – the breakdown of molecules to obtain energy
- Anabolism – the synthesis of all compounds needed by the cells” 9)https://www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/What-is-Metabolism.aspx
Sitting interrupts the metabolic process of catabolism and anabolism in the body, which interferes with normal internal operations that keep us healthy.
As a result, there is overwhelming research that shows how too much sitting is a cause of metabolic syndrome.
(Give me a moment to get up on my soapbox. Metabolic syndrome is largely a self-inflicted condition – the results of cumulative poor eating and lifestyle habits. Rather than seeking pills to counteract metabolic syndrome, it makes far more sense to change your habits and enjoy self-correction of the actual underlying issues. More on that in a moment.)
Metabolic syndrome isn’t one particular disease – it’s a group of negative effects that are caused by long term abuse (chronic interruption) of the metabolic process. 10)https://www.webmd.com/heart/metabolic-syndrome/metabolic-syndrome-what-is-it#1 11)https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916 12)http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MetabolicSyndrome/About-Metabolic-Syndrome_UCM_301920_Article.jsp 13)https://www.medicinenet.com/metabolic_syndrome/article.htm 14)https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/metabolic-syndrome/
Metabolic Syndrome is typically comprised of the following problems:
- High blood pressure.
- High blood glucose/sugar.
- High cholesterol.
- Excess abdominal fat.
- Increased risk of death from heart issues and cancers. 15)https://www.webmd.com/heart/metabolic-syndrome/metabolic-syndrome-what-is-it#1 16)https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005 17)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996155/
Active Adults & Sitting
For adults to be considered “active” it is generally recommended that they engage in some type of physical activity for 30 minutes per day. 18)https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916 19)https://www.choosemyplate.gov/physical-activity-amount 20)http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.Wr2WgZOuzeQ
Unfortunately, these guidelines aren’t specific enough to include the dangers of sitting, even if you follow these common suggestions for activity.
(The recommendations don’t mean much anyway, since less than 5% percent of adults follow the recommendation of 30 minutes of activity a day. 21)https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html )
Studies show that even 30 thirty minutes of activity per day can’t counteract the negative effects of habitual sitting.
“In other words, for individuals who spent large amounts of daily time sitting, physical activity did not seem to be protective against the odds of developing metabolic syndrome. This finding was supported by a systematic review and meta-analysis published by Edwardson et al.  who reported that people spending more time in sedentary behaviour (sitting) had 73% increased odds of developing metabolic syndrome, independent of physical activity and gender…” 22)http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0061723#s3
So here’s a simplification:
- Prolonged, habitual sitting, even in “active” individuals, causes an interruption in metabolism, which slows or stops many internal functions, which can…
- Increases your risk of metabolic syndrome by 73%, which then…
- Increases your risk of heart issues by 147%, diabetes by 112%, cancer by up to 66%, and all cause mortality by 50%.
What we once thought was a nice way to relax is now a great way to increase your risk of lifelong ailments and disease.
It makes you wonder why, even with so much scientific evidence on hand, the general public isn’t more aware of the risk of sitting around the house all day.
And that begs the question…
How Much Sitting Is Too Much?
The negative effects of sitting are pretty obvious at this point. But at what point does sitting become bad? How much can we sit and still expect to live healthier lives?
The answer is a little subjective, since most studies use different parameters in their data collection methods.
One study suggests that those who sit at least 6 hours per day have increased odds of developing metabolic syndrome. 23)http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0061723#s3
Another study identified a positive association of sitting more than 7 hours per day and increased risk of metabolic syndrome. 24)https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-3617-5
Regardless of the actual number of hours you allow yourself to sit each day, we can safely say that less sitting is better.
When you’re home, stay off the couch as often as you can.
For those who work in an environment where sitting all day is normal, don’t be afraid to stand up and move around as often as you can. Studies show that short breaks from sedentary habits can be helpful, and that metabolic function restarts within 90 seconds of standing up. 25)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21180 26)https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/02/06/effects-prolonged-sitting.aspx?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=facebookpets_ranart&utm_campaign=20180322_effects-prolonged-sitting 27)http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/5/976 28)https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1796&context=ijes
You may also want to bring all this information to the attention of your supervisor, as employee compliance to simply moving around is greatly increased (along with their health, and likely productivity) when moving frequently is supported and approved by management. 29)https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2013/128376/
How To Stop The Negative Effects Of Sitting
Stop sitting or limit sitting to 3-5 hours per day.
I only allow myself to sit for about two hours total per day. It takes a few days to adjust, but the science is in definite favor of standing – the long term implications on your energy and vitality are profound.
Anecdotally, I also want to include four points about my transition away from prolonged sitting.
- A small amount of lingering pain in my left knee, which had been there for weeks, entirely went away in about two days of less sitting and more standing.
Even though I added to the total time my knee was under load, the problem corrected itself quickly. Curious.
- I recently sustained a pretty bad ankle sprain, which I’m in the process of recovering from…again.
Just like the knee pain, I believe that standing more on my weak ankle is actually helping it. One of the definitive healing strategies of a sprained ankle is physical therapy. Simply standing and walking around more seems to be great therapy once I got past the initial swelling and discomfort.
- I’ve also noticed a decrease in stiffness in my body when I wake up in the mornings. Rather than feeling old and creaky (I know, I’m only 30…), I jump out of bed and leap into the day.
Added energy and vitality? Check. There’s nothing like feeling younger.
- The more I stand, the more I want to go do things. I imagine this is partially due to increased metabolic function, better autophagy from intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet, and getting enough polyphenols from the foods I eat.
In any case, I rarely finish a day by wanting to sprawl out on the couch. I usually want to go for a walk in the dark (I love listening to jazz piano while I walk) or shoot a hundred free throws at the local YMCA.
Like many people, I spend lots of time in front of a computer for work. Along with limiting my exposure to the blue light emitting from the screen and fluorescent lights, I hardly ever sit while using my electronics anymore.
This alone eliminated somewhere between 2-8 hours per day of sitting for me, depending on the day.
I also don’t sit very often during entertainment anymore. Last week I stood during the entirely of two local basketball games. When watching TV, I either stand up the whole time or stand up every ten or fifteen minutes for two or three minutes.
Your Electronics Are The Biggest Reason For Sitting
One of the biggest issues plaguing the world is television, electronics, and video gaming. I don’t think any of them are necessarily bad, because I like entertainment and connectivity as much as anyone else.
But all of these things are radically abused. Consider the following statistics in relation to sitting down.
- The average child spends 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen.
- Almost a third of high school students play video games for three hours each school day. And that’s after they’ve sat around in class for 7 or 8 hours. 30)https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html
- The average American adult spends almost five hours per day watching TV and over an hour per day on the computer. 31)https://www.statista.com/chart/1971/electronic-media-use/
Then add the negative effects of sitting, which pretty much everyone does while they engage in electronic entertainment.
It’s amazing, to say the least. Everyone just sits there and watches someone on the screen be successful while they’re literally, slowly killing themselves – just by sitting there.
The best way to reduce your overall sitting time is to limit your number one reason for sitting down in the first place – to watch your screens. This applies to adults and kids alike.
There is a huge collection of research that’s been done on the relationship between sitting, metabolic function, and the increased risk of disease.
Decreasing the amount of time you sit is one of the best ways you can boost your long term vitality, energy, and overall health.
Remember these key points as you think about changing your sitting habits.
- The negative effects of sitting are shockingly similar to those of smoking, increasing your overall mortality by 50%.
- Sitting can also increase increase your risk of some cancers by up to 66%.
- If long periods of sitting is common for you, you are at risk of developing diabetes and having cardiovascular event.
- Your metabolic function is severely impaired through prolonged sitting. This greatly increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
Who knew that such an innocuous thing like sitting could do so much damage over the course of your lifetime? I’m still reeling from this information.
Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment below or send me a personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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