The Dangers of Sitting

The Dangers of Sitting

Humans are little more than ten millennia separated from their hunter-gatherer roots. And yet what a difference those 10,000 years have made. We have modern antibiotics and are largely removed from dangers attending childbirth. At the same time, we have made acquiring food too easy, and worst of all have stopped moving.

I know I should walk more, but how much do I need?

Speaking of 10,000, have you had your 10,000 steps today? Some medical authorities suggest walking this much daily, and yet most people fall far short. The average for adults in the United States is less than 6,000 steps, and many walk less than half that much! If you have led a sedentary lifestyle for some time, start increasing exercise gradually. Even if you increase daily steps 500 or less each week, you’ll eventually reach the goal.

Is sitting really all that bad?

Yes! One persuasive study followed 8,800 adults for seven years. Those who sat more than four hours daily had nearly 50% greater mortality than those sitting less than two hours! Other researchers have shown that sitting half the day doubles the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Americans average 13 total hours per day sitting at work and home! 

Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and other forms of inflammation — sitting lies at the root of all of them, because sitting disease causes obesity, which in turn spawns a plethora of other diseases. On average, obese people sit 135 minutes longer each day —over two hours more — than the lean do. They also have lower levels of what researchers call “non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” or NEAT. Higher levels of NEAT are correlated with a lower incidence of disease.

Some studies have shown that even exercising vigorously one hour per day is not enough to counteract the damaging effects of sitting. If you follow that workout with eight hours of sitting, you have already undone all the good your sweat session might have conferred!

But some people stay slim no matter what; why’s that?

The answer may surprise you. New studies track activity levels by outfitting test subjects with Spandex underwear that continuously monitors motion and posture with tiny sensors. The results of these studies suggest that lean subjects automatically adjust their activity levels — and consequently ramp up NEAT — when calories are increased, whereas obese ones do not.

Many mammals, including humans, possess complex, feedback-controlled, neural circuitry in the hypothalamus that establishes equilibrium between activity, body temperature and metabolic rate on the one hand, and activity on the other. Scientists have suggested that sitting may cause this circuitry to malfunction, resulting in obesity, disease, and increased mortality. Modern life, increasingly sedentary, has overridden the complex regulatory mechanism evolution provided. We’ve defeated nature, and in the process, ourselves.

What’s the cure for sitting disease?

In a word…standing! We need more walking and more movement generally, spread throughout the day. Some forward-looking employers have replaced conventional desks and chairs with standing workstations  — a high table (and computer) with a treadmill running slowly beneath it at less than two miles per hour. The new workstations have consistently resulted in better blood pressure and lower cholesterol, not to mention enhanced productivity. Until the world of work has been fully reformed, remember this — stand often, walk frequently, shun unnecessary conveniences, and sit as little as possible. Your life depends on it!