For those of you keeping up with the news, you may have noticed some recent articles about sitting. Experts have been talking more and more about the subject. Some of you may be asking why? Well, it turns out sitting can be pretty dangerous to your health.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited a study that found, “sitting down for more than three hours a day can shave a person’s life expectancy by two years”.[1] It may seem like an arbitrary number, but there are solid reasons for it. It is a lifestyle issue, which has become deeply rooted in today’s modern society. Through increases of technology, our quality of life has gotten better and our culture has become largely sedentary (inactive).

Besides the above-mentioned 2 years of life expectancy, there are many serious health issues related to sitting and inactivity in general. Studies have shown that sedentary behaviors are associated with, “type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease mortality and all-cause mortality”.[2] This is a subject we need to be aware of.

Yet, sitting is not an activity that is bad in and of itself, the root of the issue is the amount of time we spend sitting. Many of us have been subjected to the requirements of the modern office, sitting at our desks for 8 hours a day. On top of that, think about the time you spend sitting at home after work or on the weekends. Even tasks such as yard work can be preformed sitting, thanks to riding lawnmowers.

For our ancestors, work was a physical, often toilsome, engagement, while today, most of us don’t move a whole lot. For instance, when president Lincoln signed legislation for the US Department of Agriculture in 1862, around half of Americans lived on farms and 90 percent were connected to agriculture in some way.[3] It was for this reason Lincoln called the new founded department, ‘the people’s department’. Boy have things changed since then; today, due to an enormous increase in technology, less than 2 percent of Americans live on farms.[4]

This meant our ancestors had active lifestyles. Their employment forced them to move around and often complete physically intense work. Today, most of us just sit down in front of our computers. This major difference in lifestyle is largely responsible for many of the sicknesses that plague us today. In fact, experts have now coined the term ‘sitting disease’ to describe the toll sitting too much has on our health.[5]

If you think sitting disease really only affects people who are couch potatoes after a day in the office, think again. Studies suggest that the effects of sitting disease may be independent of the effects of physical activity.[6] So even if you go for a jog every morning, or go to the gym during the week, a long day sitting at the office will take a toll on your health.

What this means is that we could all use some improvement in our working habits. Here are some simple habits we can develop to get us on our feet:

• Stand up or pace when talking on the phone

• Choose a parking space that is further away

• Walk over to someone when you have a question instead of yelling

• Choose to take the stairs when you have the chance

• Go for a quick jog or walk in the morning, at lunch, or after work

• Stand when talking to a friend or colleague, or when preforming simple tasks such as reading, folding laundry, or practicing an instrument

• Clean and do yard work, these provide practical exercise

Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, was asked how often people should get up to avoid getting sitting disease. He answered, “No one knows for sure, but if you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting for too long… you should be up for 10 minutes of every hour.”[7]

While it may be difficult for some of us to implement these ideas a work, we do need to make the most of the time we do control. Consider this: Researchers found that by reducing our television viewing to less than 2 hours a day, we could add almost 1.5 years to our lives.[8] For most Americans there is room for improvement; on average, we spend two hours and forty-five minutes a day watching television.[9]

Even with a busy, hectic schedule, you can find the time for better health. Even long-haul truckers, who sit all day long, are working on getting healthier. Even though they spend most of their days sitting, they are trying to capitalize on the time they do have. It’s becoming more common to see truckers taking bikes with them on the road and many truck stops have added walking or jogging trails.[10] They are making the most of the time they do have and the health benefits are paying off.

Rick Ash is one trucker who made the choice to improve his health, loosing 54 pounds in a year. He said he now has an increase in energy, sleeps better, and has less aches after a long day in the truck.[11] That’s a story that should give us all hope for improvement.

 

[1] Seidman, Andrew. “Sitting for More Than Three Hours a Day Cuts Life Expectancy.” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2012.

[2] Katzmarzyk, Peter T., and I.-Min Lee. “Sedentary Behaviour and Life Expectancy in the USA: a Cause-deleted Life Table Analysis.” BMJ Open 2, no. 4 (January 1, 2012).

[3] “USDA Celebrates 150 Years of Helping People.” Iowa Press on Iowa Public Television.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Take a Stand Against Sitting Disease.” USATODAY.COM, August 13, 2012.

[6] Katzmarzyk, Peter T., and I.-Min Lee. “Sedentary Behaviour and Life Expectancy in the USA: a Cause-deleted Life Table Analysis.” BMJ Open 2, no. 4 (January 1, 2012).

[7] “Take a Stand Against Sitting Disease.” USATODAY.COM, August 13, 2012.

[8] Katzmarzyk, Peter T., and I.-Min Lee. “Sedentary Behaviour and Life Expectancy in the USA: a Cause-deleted Life Table Analysis.” BMJ Open 2, no. 4 (January 1, 2012).

[9] “American Time Use Survey Summary”, June 22, 2012.

[10] “More Truckers Focus on Getting Healthier.” USATODAY.COM, August 22, 2012.

[11] Ibid.


About the Author

Jonathan Ewald

“If man thinks about his physical or moral state he usually discovers that he is ill.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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