Why Sitting Increases Your Risk of Dying Sooner
We, humans, went through a lot during the history of our planet. We survived dinosaurs, plague, typhus, world wars, but there is still one thing that is threatening us – our stealth enemy, sitting.
Sitting appears to be our secret assassin no matter how hard we try to deny it. Instead of running for our lives, we are running our fingers across those tablets and smartphones while sitting or laying down in the comfort of our houses.
Even though there is nothing outside we should be afraid of (as in the past, numerous threats such as wild animals and diseases made people lock themselves in), we still decide to stay in and do nothing.
What could possibly go wrong? What is that about sitting that makes it so dreadful?
According to researches, sitting turned out to be the leading cause of 433,000 deaths per year in Southern Asian, American, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and the European region from 2002 to 2011.
The estimated sitting time varies from three to unbelievable 15 hours a day, while the average time amounts to 4.7 hours in total.
What is more, examinees spent 4.7 hours or more sitting per three or more days in a row, which greatly increases the risks of it eventually being lethal.
Some of the first studies and researches related to this issue proved that inactive people were twice as likely to have a heart attack than the ones who spend most of their time on the go.
For example, a study from the 1950s showed that bus drivers from London were highly prone to having heart attacks, contrary to their colleagues who worked as bus conductors.
From that moment on, an outburst of various researches on why sitting increases risks of dying sooner overflew Internet, newspapers, and TV content.
Up to 60% of the world’s population belongs to a category of sitters, which already gives a lot of space to worry about. Risks of dying prematurely go up proportionally with the time one spends sitting.
Moderate physical activity or standing can thwart the effects of extended sitting periods. Yet, even after taking into account standing and moderate physical activity, there is still a great chance of premature deaths in 50% of the cases.
Unfortunately, despite the fact most of the world knows about “sitting disease”, it seems people are being ignorant over the issue.
JAMA Internal Medicine did a great job once again. They did a research on trends in sedentary behavior among Americans and came up with an unbelievable conclusion – Americans are spending more time sitting now than they did before. What is even more worrying – the number is going up even now.
Let’s make it clear now – the point with reducing sedentary behavior is not in the increased calories intake. Of course, there is no doubt sitting increases expenditure decline, but there is another catch because of which sitting increases risks of dying sooner, and it will be clarified through the article.
TWO TYPES OF SEDENTARY BEHAVIOR
Dr. David A. Alter, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, made a distinction between two sedentary behaviors – uninterrupted sedentary bouts and total daily sedentary time.
Uninterrupted sedentary bout has effects on the mortality of people who spend more than 12 hours sitting per day.
Further, uninterrupted sedentary bouts longer than 30 minutes combined with prolonged time sitting drastically increase the risk of premature deaths.
On the other hand, low sedentary volumes turned out to have positive effects on reducing death risks, even among people who had a couple of uninterrupted bouts more than 30 minutes during the day.
A conclusion imposes itself – excessive sitting is bad either way, while lengthy bouts make it even worse, especially if this is a part of a routine.
More sitting equals more heart failure risk.
That said, long sitting sessions affect the cardiovascular system, which is the main reason for premature deaths, not increased calories intake.
But, as there is always “but”, calories don’t deserve to be neglected completely. Sitting requires spending very few calories than standing does, not to talk about walking or making more movements.
Spending fewer calories builds up fat and, eventually, results in obesity and heart disease. Obesity takes second place on the list of preventable deaths in America.
Sitting or laying down for hours, snacking, and drinking soda combined are the biggest threat to one’s health.
HEALTH RISKS OF SEDENTARY BEHAVIOR
If you still have some doubts about whether sitting poses a threat to your health, this section will make it all clear.
Moving your muscles helps your digestive system work efficiently with burning fats and sugars. However, if you spend most of the day sitting – your digestive system will grow lazy.
Have you ever tried going to the gym but have up because you haven’t experienced any results? Well, no matter how much you exercise, if you spend a large amount of time laying or sitting – it will all be in vain.
Doctors advise at least 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activities during the day in order to combat those counter effects of sitting, even though light-intensity activities should cover most of your free time.
Large Leg and Gluteal Muscles
Bum muscles are important for stabilizing yourself when walking. Sitting for most of the time can only weaken those muscles and make you more prone to falling, injuries, or straining.
That’s right – if you lead a sedentary life and try to compensate it with going to the gym, there is a great possibility you will strain your muscle while exercising.
Hips and Back
Your whole body needs support. Besides gluteal and leg muscles, you need the help of your hips and back to move and walk without difficulties. Sedentary lifestyle affects your hip flexor muscles, which leads to hip joints issues (inflammation and the breakdown of the cartilage).
Poor body posture is almost as harmful to your back as sitting. If you have to sit for long periods (for any reason), try to keep your body posture right.
Otherwise, there is a great chance of causing poor spine health, which further results in premature degradation of… well, everything. The spine supports the whole organism, right?
The best solution for such cases is to use an ergonomically designed chair.
Neck Pain and Stiffness
Inspecting the subject even deeper, sitting for hours in front of your computer can lead to serious neck pain and shoulder stiffness.
Down below, we will suggest a couple of exercises and stretches that prevent stiffness.
Sedentary behavior is life-threatening mostly because it leads to heart diseases. People who watch TV for more than 20 hours a week are more prone to cardiovascular diseases than the ones who spend no more than 10 hours in front of their TVs.
According to doctors, both women and men who are inactive are highly likely to die from a heart attack or a stroke.
The American College of Cardiology conducted a study in which they proved each one of 2,000 analyzed adults who spent most of the day sitting had 14% more chance of coronary artery calcification than people who tend to be active all day long.
New reports have proved more than 9.4% of Americans (100 million) are living with pre-diabetes or diabetes. Laying in bed for days is more than enough to increase insulin resistance in one’s body, which causes significant blog sugars to jump.
Varicose and Spider Veins
When you sit, blood pools in your legs. After a couple of months, rarely years, of a sedentary lifestyle, one can face varicose veins.
Despite the fact varicose veins are not life-threatening, it still happens people with varicose veins end up with blood clots, which is a major problem.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Are you traveling often? Do you spend hours in your car or on a plane? Is your lifestyle mostly sedentary even when you are not traveling?
If your answer is yes, then there is a great chance you will end up with a blood clot in your leg.
People should take deep vein thrombosis as a serious life threat, as a clot may break off and cut off the blood flow to one’s lungs or heart. Pulmonary embolism always leads to serious complications and death in 80% of the cases.
On the other hand, if a blood clot sticks to the artery, there is almost no chance any human would survive this.
Latest studies from the American Cancer Society confirmed a link between sitting for a prolonged time and a higher risk of deaths of 14 out of 22 causes, including cancer.
Sitting causes lung, colon, and uterine cancer.
Anxiety and Depression
People tend to understand the effects of sitting lifestyle to their physical health rather than their mental health.
However, we should spread the word that sitting makes people way more depressed and anxious.
The main reason for this lays in the fact that exercising makes us happy, believe it or not. Physical activities affect our bodies and minds positively while sitting (such as smoking and drinking) is bad for our mental health.
It’s due to the fact that when your muscles are employed, your body releases dopamine, and smoking and drinking can affect the release of a stress hormone called cortisol.
A recent study proved 99% higher chances of falling into depression with people who are not exercising at all.
Is it clearer why sitting increases your risks of dying sooner? Does reading all those health risks sitting bring up makes you scared for life?
Consider exercising as there is no healthier way of keeping both your body and your mind sharp and in tune.
SITTING VERSUS EXERCISE
No matter how hard we try to liberate ourselves from the desks and bureaus, it seems like most of the world’s population is still sitting too much.
Sitting for hours day after day increases the risk of dying sooner no matter if one is exercising or not.
Exercises are highly recommendable, but it is not enough to exercise in the morning and think that you’re good for the rest of the day or maybe even a week.
Being mindful of leading a sedentary lifestyle means realizing there is a lot more to do. Get up, move, break up those bad habits.
That means, even if a person exercises five to six times per week, but still spends most of their time sitting, driving, laying on the couch, or enjoying other pleasure activities – that is a red flag. Being reasonably active is sometimes still not enough.
Speaking further, it also doesn’t matter which type of exercises one performs – light, moderate, or vigorous, as the same story applies either way.
However, even avoiding prolonged bouts and sedentary behavior is still not enough for reducing risks. Only a combination of 5-minute breaks every 30 minutes, light activity, and exercises can make a major change.
Just as exercising can’t annul long sitting effects no matter what, it is important to remember that the health risks it carries have nothing to do with a person’s age, weight, gender, or race either.
Nothing is lost yet. There is a chance for every one of us who wants to reduce the risk of premature death dramatically. Even people whose days were all about sitting have a chance to compensate.
The University of Sydney found out that exercising for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day (minimum 150 minutes a week) can make a significant change. Yet, going back to old patterns can pose a threat of course.
WAYS TO COUNTER DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS OF SITTING
The simplest answer to a question of how to counter the detrimental effects of sitting is – to walk.
This is the most natural, yet wonderfully easy way to get the blood pumping and wiggle those hip flexors.
The thing is – people are neglecting the fact walking is so healthy just because it is so easy. Never underestimate the power of a morning walk.
Go for a walk before work. Leave your car parked and walk your way to the office.
In case you have to use transportation for any reason, make sure to skip the elevator once you get into the building, but use stairs.
There is a way to make yourself walk more. If you leave your lunch in the car, you would have to walk till there to get it. Use your break to see what your colleagues are doing, take a walk to a nearby park – whatever feels right. Just don’t sit.
The main thing people who sit a lot can do for their health is to make a move every 30 minutes. Paying more attention to moving will have immediate positive effects on your cardiovascular health.
People with desk jobs may want to include a standing desk session in their routine. Having a lifestyle that requires prolonged periods of sitting doesn’t mean there is nothing one can do about preventing its awful health effects.
Do you have a job where you spend most of the time talking to customers on the phone? Take advantage of this. Don’t just sit and talk – walk and talk! Your goal is to minimize the time spent sitting no matter what you do.
Standing is much healthier than sitting, while a small 5-minute break can mean a lot to anybody who works 8 hours at an office. Just one behavior change is enough to reduce health risks sitting carries.
Some people are just too busy with their jobs they forget about the importance of taking a break every 30 or 60 minutes. However, an alarm that goes off once or twice per hour will act as a great reminder.
Taking a subway or a bus? Just because there is a free seat in there, resist the temptation! Hold onto a pole rather than sitting, as, once more – standing has a great potential of reducing risks of dying sooner.
No one knows for sure how many hours a day they spend sitting, walking, or standing.
Just like monitoring weight loss, folks can monitor and track periods of activity and inactivity.
Squats are great for lifting up your buttocks, but – these are amazing for your digestive system, knees, and ankles as well. Hindu squat is a powerful exercise which helps with long sitting.
Lower your body to a regular squat and then lower it even more so you almost touch the floor with your behind.
The first time you do it – your leg muscles would go crazy and you may feel straining in your thighs. Over time, you will get more comfortable with the Hindu squat.
Some people simply don’t like stretching. Yet, only one stretch is more than enough to take your body back in balance after hours of sitting – the couch stretch.
The reason why this exercise is so good is that it opens up and unglues your hips, makes your joint and ligaments less stiff.
Even though this is the couch stretch, you don’t need a couch necessarily. A wall would do much better.
Press one of your feet against the wall with your leg bent in a knee position while keeping the other foot on the ground. Stand tall and straight and hold it for at least two minutes.
This will make your hip flexor stretched. Yet, don’t wait too much either – change sides after two or three minutes.
Are you a swimmer?
Swimming is one of the healthiest sports of all time. Recreational swimming takes the stress off the back and the joints and strengthen core muscles.
Swimming moves your whole body – head to toe but works on the inside as well. It tones your muscles, builds endurance, increases heart rate, controls blood sugar level, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the chance of premature death up to 50% in comparison to inactive people.
Speaking further, swimming helps with retaining a healthy body posture. Just as we mentioned through the article, sitting destroys body posture, which creates stiffness in your shoulders, neck, and lower back. Yet, swimming develops those muscles in your shoulders and back, which are critical to body posture.
Options are endless – you can enjoy as many activities you want, as every move counts. It is up to you to choose whether you will go to the gym, go swimming, do exercise from the comfort of your home, or take long walks in the afternoon.
HOW MANY HOURS CAN ONE SPEND SITTING?
People sitting for more than 10 hours a day are the most exposed to premature deaths – up to 12%. Yet, as everybody has their own story, some people who sit less than 10 hours a day can be prone to high health risks even more.
Even sitting for 6 to 8 hours can pose a big threat, which means prolonged sitting is either way very harmful to anybody’s health.
Activity is good in general, no matter if you walk, stretch, or do moderate to vigorous exercise. Exercising for at least one hour a day reduces the health risks of sitting.
Although one doesn’t have to exercise at all, one has to be ACTIVE and MOVE. Yet, it is highly recommendable to squeeze in at least 10 minutes a day to do a couple of stretches or light exercises.
If an average person spends 8 hours sleeping, and 8 hours at work, there is still another 8 hours.
Out of those 8 hours at work, one can spend a maximum one hour out of the office, but there is still a room to make those 5-minute pauses and/or breaks.
Try your best to keep yourself active as much as possible once you leave your office. Ideally, it would be at least 5 active hours per day.
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
As humans form habits from an early age, it is very important to teach our children to avoid sitting as much as they can.
We get it – sometimes it is much easier to calm them down with their favorite game or a cartoon, but think a little further.
Kids who spend most of their time watching TV and playing video games are prone to obesity and have lower cognitive development.
Being a busy parent is not an excuse for not growing awareness about the dreadful impacts of sitting. Habits from an early age have a major impact on our lives and health once we grow older.
Start with reducing time spent in car seats, high chairs, and baby bouncers as soon as your child starts walking, as this is the best way not to let your baby get used to sedentary behavior.
For children aged between 5 and 18 years, you want to make them move around the home and spend most of their time outside.
You should try your best to establish healthy patterns with your kids, which exclude spending most of the time in front of the screens. Limit daily screen time, make your kid’s bedroom computer-zone free, encourage them to help you with the chores, get them a bicycle, skateboard, or roller skates.
It wouldn’t be fair to forget about the elder population, as most of older adults (65 and more) spend most of their time (10+ hours) sitting.
Most common reasons for that are ill health, reduced functionality, and mobility issues.
However, according to some social norms, older people are supposed to slow down a bit and lead a more peaceful life.
It is highly recommendable for older people to involve light movement and some type of physical activity into their routine.
Ernest Hemingway was aware of the negative impacts sitting has on human health so he wrote his novels standing.
If you like watching TV so much, move during TV advert breaks or watch TV while doing light exercises. Stairs can be your friend, so use them as much as possible.
Find a hobby – gardening, painting, walk your pet, play golf, join a walking group. Spend time with your grandchildren, as kids are active and playful, which will make you move more.
There are so many ways to enjoy your pension. They don’t say this is a golden age for nothing. Make it worthy, enjoy every second of it, and take every chance to be active.
Even though sitting is a common body posture, as we spend most of the time at work, driving in our cars, having coffee with friends, watching TV. Yet, would you stick to those old patterns if you knew sitting increases risk of early death?
Risks of dying early jump up with every hour spent sitting. American Cancer Society suggests sitting for three hours a day maximum.
Even though exercising is beneficial in so many ways, it is not enough to offset the negative effects sitting has on our health. Inactivity plays an important role in increasing risks of type-2 diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, heart diseases while affecting our mental health negatively as well.
Get a standing desk for your office (scroll up for the image), take a walk to your colleague’s office in breaks, use public transportation but choose standing, go swim or play with your kids or your pet – there are so many ways to get yourself active.
We are not saying you should turn yourself in a machine. You can have a cheat day once or twice a week, but don’t let yourself get too lazy – for your own sake.
We hope this article made you realize why sitting increases risks of dying sooner.
Don’t be one of those people from JAMA Internal Medicine’s research – sit less, not more.
Are you sitting still? Are you still sitting? Hopefully not.
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