The Dangers of Sitting All Day and 5 Things To Do About It

The vast majority of us spend hours at a desk in front of a computer every day. Even after the workday is complete, many of us go on to sit more while in a car, bus, or the subway and then again at the dinner table, and in front of the television. Even if we take time out of our busy day to engage in physical activity such as walking, biking, running or weight training, the proportion of this time is minimal compared to the hours and hours of sitting we log.

Research studies indicate that too much time spent sitting and being sedentary can lead to very negative health outcomes including increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, not to mention the higher rates of obesity, depression and hypertension.

This is why so many doctors say "sitting is the new smoking."

There are many reasons for the negative health consequences related to prolonged sitting. The most clear and straightforward relationship is that sitting burns fewer calories than standing or walking. This is because sitting is quite passive especially if you are sitting with poor posture. Your muscles don't need to do much to hold you up and you expend very little energy because you are being supported by a chair. While standing, your leg muscles, core muscles and back muscles have to work harder in order to hold you erect against gravity. Fewer calories burned can lead to obesity which can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There are other metabolic effects that occur at the cellular level that can also explain the harmful consequences of sitting all day. From an evolutionary perspective, we are meant to be moving creatures and our muscles and muscle cells have been built and specifically designed to manage higher levels of activity than modern man typically engages in these days. It has been shown that muscle cells that are idle do not react to insulin (a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy) as easily and thus the pancreas has to produce more and more of the insulin hormone for the same response (also known as insulin resistance). Long-term changes in blood insulin levels can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. In addition, excess insulin in the blood encourages cell growth, which can explain the rapid cell growth of cancerous cells. It is also believed that the expression of certain genes that work to suppress inflammation are decreased in sedentary individuals. This can explain many conditions that are related to inflammation such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Obviously this is some serious stuff so here are some ideas to get you moving more throughout the day:

1. Walk part way or all the way to work! If you drive, park further away. In some cases parking further away is cheaper but regardless you are forced to walk before you start your work day as well as at the end of the day on your way home. If you take the subway or bus, get off a stop or two earlier and walk the rest of the way. If you live close by, think about riding your bike or walking to work.

2. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Consider taking the stairs up to your office at the beginning of the day, at lunch and at the end of the day. Stair climbing adds resistance to your legs and forces your leg and core muscle to work even harder than walking alone. It can also help to increase your heart rate. You will notice that this task becomes easier and easier as you do it more because your muscles will become stronger and your cardiovascular system will become more efficient.

3. Drink lots of water throughout the day by always keeping a bottle of water on your desk. Water can help to cleanse your body of toxins and keep your cells hydrated. In addition, you will need to use the restroom more often and this will force you to get up from your desk more often.

4. Go for a walk at lunch. Force yourself to take a break at lunch and incorporate movement during this break. Do not go directly from your desk to the lunch-room or cafeteria only to sit more. Eat quickly and then spend the rest of your lunch break walking outdoors. This will help clear your mind, get your blood flowing, increase your metabolism and prepare you for the rest of your day at work. You will notice that your work productivity will actually increase if you make the time to do this.

See related article Sitting At A Desk All Day? (Do This Instead)

5. Stand up at work whenever possible. There are standing desks available and many other opportunities to stand up while you are on the phone or when you are brainstorming ideas. Consider walking over to a fellow colleague's desk instead of just sending them an email or calling them. The ideas are endless if you actually consider all the times at work that you can actually stand up and move around.

There are standing desks available and many other opportunities...

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12/31/2017 8:00:00 AM
Alishah Merchant
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Alishah Merchant is an FCAMPT physiotherapist practicing in downtown Toronto. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Health Science degree from the University of Western Ontario in 2005. She continued on to receive her Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from McMaster University in 2007. After a few years of workin...
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Comments
Suggestion #4, eat your lunch quickly and take a walk:
I was doing that for a while, I had frequent indigestion so I started eating more slowly while I was walking. (Pack the right lunch and it's easy to do). The bigger problem was that some days I just didn't feel like turning around and walking back to work. I've been looking for a job for more than a year and a half now.
Posted by Barry Dingle
I have a workstation that I can change from sitting to standing in seconds with the use of one hand. I try to stand for 20 minutes every hour. And I do NOT stand still, I deliberately "fidget" by shifting my weight from one foot to the other and sometimes slowly walking in place. It's the best of both worlds.
Posted by Marty H
This is a good piece, but it ignores an important consideration. Primarily, why many-hour sitting represents a risk...and tends to undermine good health...is that extensive sitting tends to place an extraordinary load on the sacroiliac joints, which--in turn--places a load on the immune system and the nervous system. There is a break-down--structurally--of the low back...and a disruption of the two systems I just mentioned. Particularly in view of the fact of extensive nervous system receptors deep in the sacroiliac joints. I would particularly suggest that--when seated for awhile-you note the tenseness and tenderness of your upper neck...as when there is sacroiliac load, the first "secondary" area to be effected is usually the upper cervical spine.

In view of all this, perhaps you can grasp the importance of getting up to stretch and walk about every so often...MINIMALLY hourly. This is to protect the low back structures (and associated nervous and immune systems), and because human being health is strongly based on movement, not on concrete-like stationary behavior.

If you happen to be a rock...or a cadaver...there is no problem. If you are a living, vital human being, you may want to elect to vote MOVEMENT and fluidity (and other life-affirming qualities and behavior, such as deep breathing and creativity), rather than death, or rock-like rigidity.

Oh, I'd like to take issue with the claim that drinking plenty of water is bogus. Chemical reactions are absolutely dependent on the presence of a solvent. And, in animals on this planet--including homo sapiens--WATER is the relevant and essential solvent. Plentiful water is also necessary for proper functioning of the kidneys, for maintaining proper balance of the electrolytes and pH and for elimination of certain substances such as urea (from protein metabolism). You may not need eight glasses of H2O per day, but you do want to keep properly hydrated.
Posted by Dr. Thomas Halle
12 minutes a day on a soft bounce rebounder is a very efficient addition to the potential solutions list.

It can even be done while working on less detailed tasks, such as studying video training material, especially with the new models that use silent bungie cords instead of squeaky springs.
Posted by Glen Swartwout
Mostly good advice, but the drink more water advice is baloney. I've known this for years now as I learned it from more than one doctor. Drinking to much water isn't healthy. This very website recently had an article about that, did it not?

Also, standing much of the day isn't healthy either. Ask any old time school teacher from the days of the chalk board. Vericose veins, sore feet, even fallen arches, etc. Suggesting someone stand at their desk all work day is crazy.

Walking and movement are healthy, but standing in one spot isn't.

So I have the most comfortable computer chair possible, try to use good posture, and go for a 10 min walk every two hours, and a 30 min walk at lunch, followed by eating lunch for 30 min.

Rest your feet when you can (sitting, hopefully with good posture in a comfortable chair) and excercise using movement, walking, stretching, etc.

I was prediabetic and obese a few years ago. I am now slim and have perfect blood sugar levels. Thanks to a combination of walking and eating more healthy.
Posted by Charley
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