The Longer You Sit, the Shorter Your Life
The American Cancer Society studied the health of 123,216 people health for 14 years. They found that women who sit more than six hours a day were about 40% more likely to die during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Men were about 20% more likely to die.
Other recent studies have corroborated the conclusion that extended periods of sitting increases risk of illness.
Earlier this year, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study showing that those who are sedentary at the workplace have almost twice the risk of a specific type of colon cancer.
What’s startling about these studies, however, is the revelation that health damage resulting from extended sitting cannot be undone by exercising. Sitting for several hours a day is bad for you, period, just as smoking is bad for you—regardless how much you exercise or how nutritious your diet.
The American Cancer Society points out that current public health guidelines fail to urge people to sit less. Instead, they merely focus on increasing one’s activity level.
In 1995 and again in 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention jointly issued national guidelines titled Physical Activity and Public Health. The U.S. government’s recommendation: “Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days each week.”
Given what’s now known, public health guidelines should address physical inactivity as well as physical activity.
Concern about inactivity is now evident in offices, schools and homes. Astute people are becoming aware that a chair at a desk—if used to the extent previously considered normal—is a health risk.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends mixing noncomputer-related tasks into the workday, so you’re moving and using different muscle groups.
Occupational sitting time has actually been suspect for several decades. According to research presented in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, double-decker bus drivers in London in the 1950s were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the bus conductors, and government clerks were more likely to die than mail carriers.
In both cases, the more sedentary job posed greater health risks than the more active job, even though they were in a similar line of work.
From then on, researchers and policy makers focused on the health benefits of exercise. But according to the latest research, even people who get significant, regular exercise face alarming health risks if they sit for long hours.
These findings are consistent with lifestyles in “Blue Zones,” places such as Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy, where people live much longer on average than do people elsewhere. In addition to plant-based diets and strong communities, near-constant moderate physical activity is the Blue Zone norm.
So what should you do if you’re desk-bound in an office? Adjustable desks are now available. They allow you to raise the desk so you can comfortably stand at your computer.
As I write this, I’m standing.
In our home/office, the sunken living room adjoins the kitchen. By standing in the living room and facing into the kitchen, my laptop—perched on the kitchen counter—is exactly the right height for me. Sometimes I stand here, writing, all day.
I’ve been standing at work for years. I did it while I was a creative director at an advertising agency. I simply put a chair on top of my desk. I turned the chair so it faced me. I put my laptop in the chair. By resting my forearms on the arms of the chair, I could shift my weight to either leg and remain comfortable for hours.
What did my co-workers think? I didn’t care. Working in the creative department of an ad agency gave me license to behave in much stranger ways than simply standing while working. What I cared about was my comfort, and the fact that standing was much better for my spinal health. At the time, I had no idea that sitting at a desk would make me susceptible to disease.
Kathy, too, stands much of the day at her desktop computer. The legs of her standard-height desk sit on blocks, which her father made for her, raising the desk three inches. Her screen sits atop a wooden stand. Her keyboard sits atop a metal stand. Before she found these ideal accessories, she used stacks of books as risers. And during the brief times she sits at her desk, she does it on a “Swopper,” which allows her to avoid being completely stationery. Visit http://www.aviva.ca/shop/products.asp?itemid=1389&catid=62 to learn about this unique stool.
Regardless how traditional or conservative an environment you work in, find a way to stand rather than sit while you’re at your desk. Don’t let co-workers’ opinions of you erode your determination to stay healthy. Sitting will kill you. So stand. With a sense of humour, you can enjoy your co-workers’ quizzical looks and chiding comments.
In the November issue of the journal Diabetes, Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a leading researcher in the field, explains that sitting has a biological function rooted in evolutionary need. Sitting is almost as energy efficient as lying down. But while seated, a person can be vigilant of his or her surroundings.
“Sitting is not bad for you in moderation, but in excess it is addictive and harmful,” Levine writes. “Of concern is that for most people in the developed world, chair-living is the norm.”