By now you may have heard that sitting is considered as or more dangerous to your health than smoking. It is in fact a medical fact depending upon your age. Recent studies showed that inactivity was the number one heart health risk for women over the age of 30. Apparently women under the age of 30 move more so typical heart health risks such as obesity and smoking ranked higher. This particular study did not focus on men however there are numerous other studies that show that men don’t get a free health pass when they spend their days sitting.
What surprises many, especially those who exercise regularly is that spending the day sitting increases disease risk regardless of whether you ran 5 miles or hit the gym before you reached the office. You heard that right Mr./Ms. Triathlete. Despite your daily workout regimens your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and a litany of other diseases is just the same as that office mate that never changes from Cole Hahn to Addidas. That is, if you spend the rest of your day inactive.
How is that possible? Scientists are just beginning to unravel the mechanics of all of this but trust us, you won’t want to wait for the final report. There are enough studies out there showing this as scientific fact now to convince even the most ardent (well read) skeptic.
A recent analysis of 43 observational studies encompassing 4 million participants found an alarming increase in the rates of cancers (24%/colon, 32%/endometrial, 21%/lung) related to time spent sitting. The really bad news? “Adjustment for physical activity did not affect the positive association between sedentary behavior and cancer,” stated study authors Daniela Schmid and Michael Lietzmann of the University of Regensburg in Germany.
What’s going on and what can be done about it? Well, as mentioned before the actual mechanics are just now being studied but a few things are known that should get you up out of that chair. Your body listens to your actions and responds accordingly. If you sit to long (beyond 20 minute intervals) your large postural support muscles (quads and glutes) are not engaged and are unable to release a litany of beneficial molecules that maintain health.
One example of this is the molecule lipoprotein lipase, which we have written about before. Other studies have shown that inactivity signals Tcells to produce as much as 50% more fat cells in the body than if an individual was upright and moving. In effect staying inactive is like placing an order with your body to become obese and obesity leads to a litany of diseases.
The good news is that you can prevent this by staying active and limiting sedentary time to no more than 20 minutes at a time without at least a 2-3 minute “moving break”. Scientists don’t know the optimum dosage of movement intervals at this point and it is our suspicion that it will vary for individuals anyway. At this stage we fall back on our “Caveman Theory” of health. The body evolved over millions of years on the basis of movement, so moving at the very least as much as we did a thousand years ago is probably a good idea. Contrast that with our government’s stated goal of 150 minutes of moderate weekly activity for a healthy lifestyle and one might understand our current health dilemma.
We will continue to deliver the scientific evidence that supports staying in motion but this does not have to be a burden once you understand the facts. Stay in motion as much as you can during the day. If a treadmill desk is your way to do it great. If that is not possible break up your sitting with as many breaks with movement as you possibly can garner. For most of us though once we lock in on a project hours go by before the thought of moving even enters our minds.