We spend a lot of time sitting, with many Canadians sitting an average of 9.5 hours (69%) a day. Today, we sit so much that our lifestyles have evolved in such a way where we spend more time sitting down than we do moving around. We sit when we are eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner; at our desks at work or school; in front of a TV or computer screen; when reading or chatting; and while commuting in cars, buses, or subways. Considering how much we sit all day long, have you ever wondered how your health is impacted?
The human body never evolved for a sedentary lifestyle – it evolved to move, to stand upright, as evidenced by our physical structure (e.g. our skeletomuscular structure). So, when we sit for long periods of time, we experience a number of different physiological changes.
After 1 Day of Sitting 6+ Hours a Day:
- Our circulatory and metabolic systems begin to slow down and the rate at which our bodies break down fat and burn calories drops.
- The electrical activities in our muscles drops.
- Insulin effectiveness drops in its uptake of glucose.
After 2 Weeks of Sitting 6+ Hours a Day:
- Fat absorption activity decreases.
- Bad cholesterol (LDL) rises.
- Blood sugar levels rise.
- Our muscles begin to atrophy and it becomes more difficult to walk.
- Our maximum oxygen consumption drops.
After 1 Year of Sitting 6+ Hours a Day:
- Experience weight gain.
- Lose up to 1% of bone mass
As a result of not moving as much as we should, we experience a plethora of health issues, including a weakened spine, back and neck pain, tight hip and hamstring muscles, headaches, weight gain, and/or varicose veins. In the long run, you have an increased risk of developing depression and cancer, as well as chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Altogether, sitting, a sedentary lifestyle, increases our risk of premature death by 49%, leading to an estimated 5 million excess deaths worldwide.
This modern-day health epidemic has been coined “the sitting disease”. Only 15% of Canadians meet the required 150 minutes of weekly physical activity needed to maintain good health. Consequently, the impact that sitting has on our health has been likened to the health effects of smoking: sitting is slowly becoming the new smoking.
Unfortunately, regular exercise alone doesn’t sufficiently combat the negative effects of sitting. But, the good news is that it’s easy to counteract these effects, no matter how lazy you are (kidding!). All you need to do is get up. Try to break up your activity throughout the day by standing up and incorporating some light activity (i.e. walking) into your day for just 2-4 hours. Personally, I like to use my Fitbit as it provides me with a reminder every hour to get up, move, and stretch.
Take every opportunity to start moving. For example, you can use a standing desk at work, drink more water so that you have to take more bathroom breaks, use the stairs, stand to eat, and walk or bike instead of drive. Additionally, when you are sitting, try to sit correctly by maintaining a good posture as it’ll help ward off some of the side-effects of prolonged sitting. When sitting, relax your shoulders and place your arms close to your sides, avoid leaning forward, and place your feet flat on the floor.
If you’re sitting right now, try to sit properly and change your environment so that it is conducive to maintaining a good posture. Better yet, if you’re sitting right now, why not just get up, walk, and quickly stretch out your body?