Humans are more sedentary now than at any point during history. We’ve gone from a species who roamed the plains to couch potatoes. Researchers have even coined the term “sitting disease” to describe the health effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle.
It starts from the moment we get up in the morning. Instead of fetching the paper, we pick up our phones and read our daily news. Gadgets designed to make our lives easier have in fact turned us into sedentary beings. We sit in front of gadgets, drive gadgets and use gadgets to shop online. And all the time we sit.
Now you might think, “I work out every morning. I’m not lazy.” But the fact is that if you’re an office worker, even if you get in exercise outside of work, you still sit for around eight hours a day. That’s A LOT of time. And the sad fact is – the amount of time you exercise, and the amount of time you spend sitting, are completely separate factors for putting you at risk of heart disease.
As it turns out, our inactivity is literally killing us by affecting our bodies in the following ways:
And here are six critical health consequences of the sitting disease:
1. Increased risk of heart disease
An extensive study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology surveyed 53,440 men and 69,776 women over 14 years and found that both men and women who sat for 6 hours or more a day died earlier than those who sat 3 or less hours a day. The study says “The time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level” and that “associations were strongest for cardiovascular disease.”
A classic study in the 1950s had British researchers compare the rates of heart attacks between London bus conductors (who stand all day) and London bus drivers (who sit all day). The study found that the drivers were significantly more likely to experience heart issues as compared to the conductors.
2. Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes & metabolic syndrome
Prolonged sitting affects blood sugar and insulin levels in the blood, and thereby increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In a new study published in Diabetologia people who were more sedentary were significantly more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who were more active.
In fact, an extra hour of sedentary time was associated with a 22% increased chance of Type 2 diabetes and a 39% increased risk for metabolic syndrome. Those with Type 2 diabetes spent up to 26 mins more per day sitting compared to others. The study concluded by saying “The results suggest the sedentary behaviour may play a significant role in the development and prevention of Type 2 diabetes”
3. Increased risk of obesity
Why do some people gain weight and others don’t, despite similar diets and exercise patterns (or lack of)? Dr James Levine of the Mayo Clinic found that the answer for this is low-grade activity – or fidgeting.
The study found that obese people tend to be much less fidgety than those who are lean, and spend at least 2 hours more each day just sitting still. In fact, the extra activity by lean people burns an additional 350 calories a day, which adds up to between 4 to 13 kg per year!
As Dr Levine puts it “Step one is get up. Step two is learn to get up more often. Step three is, once you’re up, move… and what we’ve discovered is that once you’re up, you do tend to move.” And so, a standing desk that reminds you to get up is one of the most convenient ways of doing so!
4. Increased risk of cancer
Extended sitting is associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Researchers examining data from the National Cancer Institute and the Centre for Disease Control found that up to 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer annually are linked to inactivity.
Senior Research Epidemiologist Christine Friedenreich, PhD, sees a protective link between physical activity and certain types of cancer. A trial indicated that increased activity reduces C-reactive protein levels, a market of inflammation, which is tied to cancer risk.
As Dr Neville Owen of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute puts it “Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right. It seems highly likely that the longer you sit, the higher your risk. This phenomenon isn’t dependent on body weight or how much exercise people do,”
5. Increased risk of musculoskeletal problems
Given the 8 hours of static desk work that most of us endure, it is unsurprising that back pain has become one of the most common results of the sitting disease amongst office workers.
A study of office workers compared participants in a seated working position against one where participants could alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes using a height adjustable workstation. The study found that the seated workers’ fatigue scores and lower back musculoskeletal discomfort were significantly higher compared to workers who could sit and stand.
6. Increased risk of depression
Researchers from the University of Queensland and Victoria University found that sitting too much could significantly increase the risk of depression in women. The survey analysed the response of 8,950 women over several years and modelled their sitting time and physical activity together.
They found that the likelihood of depressive symptoms for women who sat more than 7 hours each day and did no physical activity, was triple than those of women who sat less than 4 hours each day and met physical activity guidelines. The researchers concluded that “increasing physical activity to a level commensurate with guidelines can alleviate current depression symptoms and prevent future symptoms.
The above provide ample reason why the Mayo Clinic considers sitting to be “the new smoking”. On the bright side, it is not difficult to avoid the sitting disease – just stand up now and walk around the room. The trick lies in making this part of a long term habit change, and that’s where Altizen comes in.