Too Much Sitting is Hazardous to Your Health

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By Dr. Nina Radcliff

Despite all the warnings in recent years that sitting too much is ruining the health of American, most people are doing just as much sitting, or even more. It’s estimated that the average American now spends at least 6 hours per day being sedentary – spending time at work or school and during leisure-time sitting with a television or videos or using computers or other electronics. Add to this, travel time sitting to and from work, school or other engagements. 

When you sit, you use less energy than you do when you stand or move – and there’s more! Too much sitting doesn’t just put you at risk for problems like weight gain, bulging disc and tension headaches — it’s considered to be as dangerous to your health as smoking.

While you may be sitting while you read this – it’s important to know there is good news!! With a few behavior changes, you can help reduce your risk of premature death along with other associated health concerns. 

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know:  About Your Sitting 

Sedentary behavior is defined as any waking activity that involves sitting or lying down. And, an increasing number of studies documents the alarming harms linked to sitting for long periods of time:

  • Insulin Resistance. After a period of body inactivity, cells become resistant to insulin, a hormone that serves as a “key” to allow glucose to enter and be utilized as fuel. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes or, even, Type 2 diabetes. 
  • Heart Disease. Prolonged sitting has been linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
  • Brain Health: When muscles move, they pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and trigger the release of all sorts of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals. When sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders. Incorrect posture, linked to sitting, causes body aches, stiffness and issues in the cervical and lumbar spine — increasing risks for herniated lumbar disks, muscle discomfort and joint stiffness in the lower limbs. And, too, it can result in a build-up of fluid in the leg veins which can cause discomfort and pain in the lower limbs.
  • Blood Clots. Sitting for more than 4 hours, can increase your risk for developing blood clots in your legs that have the potential to break off and travel to your lungs. This can result in complete blockage and be fatal. 
  • Obesity. Standing instead of sitting equates to an extra 20-50 calories/hour burned, depending on your weight or body habitus. Over time, that adds up. Just 2 hours of standing over the course of the day can help you shed 4-10 pounds/year (4 hours of standing can mean 8-20 pounds/year). 

A growing body of evidence shows a direct relationship between time spent sitting and your risk of health concerns and early mortality, of any cause. And, risks of death among those who reported the most leisure time sitting, were higher from cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, lung disease, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.

Tips for More Movement – Make a commitment!!

Commit to moving! Consider starting by simply standing more rather than sitting when you have the chance, or finding ways to walk while you work.

  • Do interrupt sitting time and take breaks every 30 minutes (stand-up, flex your muscles, move around, walk)
  • Stand or walk while talking on the phone or watching television and during lunch
  • Standing desks offer an alternative to sitting slouched at your desk for hours  
  • Treadmill workstations, with a platform to place a laptop/papers, are a great way to move while working   
  • Arrange your work area for movement such as placing items out of arm’s reach to encourage movement
  • Set your alarm on your phone every 30 minutes to remind yourself to move. In addition to the physical benefits, moving can immediately and considerably improve mood, focus and concentration, and the ability to handle stress at work. Even something simple, like swinging your arms, can improve alertness.    
  • Pedometers and movement apps or gadgets can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to do more 
  • Utilize ankle weights, resistance bands, or dumbbells (or even use water bottles) and move. Throw in some quick upper body exercises while you’re on the phone.  

If you must be sitting during the day, you can break-up the time every 30 minutes and stand for 5-8 minutes or move around for 2 minutes.  The impact of movement — even light movement — can be profound in making a difference. Getting-up from sitting and moving around is key for regulating proteins, genes, and other systems that lower susceptibility to disease.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.