Sitting Your Way to Bad Health

America has become an extremely sedentary nation. We sit as we eat, commute, work, and even for leisure time in front of screens. The average American sits for nearly 13 hours a day, a vast difference from the average time even 50 years ago. The availability and rise of labor-reducing technology, such as motor vehicles, jet planes, and computers, contributes to this. A whopping 13 hours may seem like a lot, but it adds up and after all, you are probably reading this in the comfort and ease of an office chair.  

Sedentary, by definition, means “characterized by a seating position,” and excessive time in this “seated position” has been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. It has also been linked to higher blood-sugar levels and type-2 diabetes. Furthermore, according to cardiologist Martha Grogan, people who sit most of the day have a risk for heart attacks similar to that of a smoker. The reasoning behind these effects stems from the inactivity of the limbs. An extended time in a seated position causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow slower throughout the body. Both of these effects can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Even those who exercise on a daily basis may be at risk of these negative health effects. Blood moves quickly throughout the body while jogging or biking, but slows significantly when seated for long periods of time. Thus, 30 minutes of physical exercise might not make up the difference of low activity 15 hours of the day.

As you aim to combat the amount of time you spend sitting, an important aspect is overestimation. An Australian health study involved participants who self-reported their average activity levels and followed up by giving each participant an accelerometer to measure more accurately. This study examined the daily routines of employees in office and call centers. The results involved highly overestimated self-reported activity levels, especially during their office times, with actual activity levels being lower by nearly 200%. A common solution to this error is outfitting yourself with an activity device that measures steps and motion. Some are even sophisticated enough to vibrate and remind you to stand if you have been sitting for an hour at a time.

For office jobs, there are a few easy remedies to sitting too long. You may have heard about standing desks. Many are built with a dual capability to raise or lower the desk so that sitting or standing are possibilities while working at the computer. Simpler and more cost effective solutions include standing each time you receive a phone call, setting a timer and walking down the hall and back each hour, or even having “walking” meetings with people whom you needed to email. Whatever the method, simply breaking up periods of sitting helps to reduce the risk of poor health from a sedentary life.

The Facts: Sit-Stand Basics 

The Risk of Sitting Too Much