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Are You Sitting Down?


Posted September 19, 2013 by

Are you sitting down? Because you shouldn’t be! I’m guessing that you, like me, live a sitting-centric life. I’m afraid to tally up the hours I spend every week sitting on my duff, whether I’m in front of my computer, eating my meals, driving around, or unwinding (i.e., watching a “Mad Men” marathon, reading on the couch, or soaking in my Epsom salt­–filled tub after a particularly grueling workout). Add in the occasional long-haul flight, spectator sporting event, or double-header movie day, and it begins to seem as if I’m never not sitting. According to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, we spend an average of 64 hours a week sitting2. At about 9 hours a day, that’s more time than most of us spend sleeping. We all know that there are dire health consequences for sedentary couch potatoes who rarely or never exercise. But as several recent studies have concluded, not even regular trips to the gym can stave off the ill effects of sitting for too long. Researchers—and headline writers—have taken to declaring that sitting is “the new smoking.” (There’s even a TED Talk about it.) Here are some key points I’ve learned from several recent articles on the subject:


  • are you sitting down“Sitting for more than two hours causes the presence of good cholesterol to drop, and, in time, insulin effectiveness plummets.” 1
  • According to Dr. James Levine, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, “muscle contractions, including the ones required for standing, seem to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars. When you sit down, muscle contractions cease and these processes stall.” 3
  • Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., professor and director of the inactivity physiology department at Pennington Biomedical Research Center “recently discovered that a key gene (called lipid phosphate phosphatase-1 or LPP1) that helps prevent blood clotting and inflammation to keep your cardiovascular system healthy is significantly suppressed when you sit for a few hours. ‘The shocker was that LPP1 was not impacted by exercise if the muscles were inactive most of the day,’ Hamilton says. ‘Pretty scary to say that LPP1 is sensitive to sitting but resistant to exercise.’” 2


  • A 2006 study by the American Cancer Society found that “men who sit for six hours or more daily have an over-all death rate twenty per cent higher than men who sit for three hours or less—in other words, they are twenty per cent more likely to die of any cause than men who are active.” 1
  • And what about women? “For women, sitting is especially unhealthy: women who sit for more than six hours a day die at a rate that’s forty per cent higher than that for women who move more.” 1
  • “The American Institute for Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting with increased risk of both breast and colon cancers. ‘Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right,’ says Neville Owen, Ph.D., head of the Behavioral Epidemiology Laboratory at Australia’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.” 2


  • are you sitting down“Unfortunately, outside of regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people sit just as much as their couch-potato peers.” 2
  • “‘We were very surprised that even the highest level of exercise did not matter squat for reducing the time spent sitting,’ says study author Marc Hamilton. In fact, regular exercisers may make less of an effort to move outside their designated workout time. Research presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine from Illinois State University reports that people are about 30 percent less active overall on days when they exercise versus days they don’t hit the road or the gym.” 2


  • Fidget. A 1999 study “concluded that the people who stayed thin managed to increase what Levine calls ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’; that is, they moved throughout the day, fidgeting, pacing, standing, bouncing on the balls of their feet, and jiggling their legs.” 1
  • Take frequent breaks. “Stuart McGill, Ph.D., director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo says that interrupting your sedentary time as often as possible and making frequent posture changes is important. ‘Even breaks as short as one minute can improve your health,’ he says.” 2
  • Raise your desk. It’s the hot trend at my office. Four of my coworkers have raised their desks this week alone. It’s hard to sit at your desk when your desk is above your head!
  • Or, better yet, get a treadmill desk. I’m not so sure I’m coordinated enough to walk and work at the same time, but there’s no lack of companies catering to this emerging market—e.g., TreadDesk, TrekDesk, Exerpeutic, the Human Solution, Ergo Desktop, and Ergotron. 1
  • Get serious about your mobility. Coach Aaron Arehart has posted some great mobility tips for the deskbound athlete: Read part 1 and part 2 and check out his video!

Sources: 1 – “The Walking Alive” – Susan Orlean, The New Yorker 2 – “Sitting Is The New Smoking—Even For Runners” – Selene Yeager, Runner’s World 3 – “Is Sitting The New Smoking?” – Sheila M. Eldred, Discovery

About The Author

jordan brealA Fort Worth native, Jordan wanders around the state of Texas for a living as a staff writer for Texas Monthly. She has also written for Fast Company, National Geographic Traveler, and Whole Living, and she recently chronicled the beginning of her CrossFit experience in a personal essay for TRIBEZA. Blog: The Wanderer Twitter: @jordanbreal


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