The problem with prolonged sitting

Sitting on chairs

An interesting fact is that the default in modern society has become ‘to be seated’. Almost everything we do can now be done from a seated position. We go from lying in our beds in the morning… to sitting in the chair for breakfast… to driving in our car (sitting) to work… to sitting in the office at work all day… apart from when we move to sit somewhere for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea… and so on throughout the day until we are lying down again at night. For the purposes of improving your health outcome, it is strongly recommended that the default needs to be out of your chair, up and moving.

Sitting on chairsRecent research suggests that inactivity increases the chances of developing diabetes and heart disease, independently of how often someone ‘works out’.

Obviously this is not relevant for those confined to a wheelchair but if you are not, then it is worth considering a lifestyle change.

By going from sitting still to standing still, the increment in calories isn’t great. However, what’s very interesting is that as soon as you are standing you are more prone to move. And as soon as you are bearing weight through your body and moving you’ve doubled your metabolic rate and doubled the calories you’re burning. So if you were to walk and talk next time you have your friend over for a coffee or meet somewhere for a catch up, you will be burning 150 calories for that hour of talking. And if you were to increase your pace of walking could burn 200 or 300 calories in that same hour.

It’s true that 150 calories an hour isn’t a lot really as it only equates to one slice of bread but it is enough calories to make a difference to your weight. That is because of the accumulative effect on your body once this becomes the norm for you. Over time 100 calories a day becomes 10 kilos of weight a year.

What is more important here though is that research data collected over the past 10 years has shown that people who are seated more are more prone to not only obesity but also metabolic diseases such as: diabetes; high blood pressure; early cancer; high cholesterol; and cardiovascular disease.

One study found that that the chance of developing Metabolic Syndrome, increased by 26 % for every extra hour a woman spent watching television, no matter how much exercise she took.

As soon as you sit down, the genes, which drive the action of insulin with respect to glucose uptake, change dramatically. They switch off. Therefore, as soon as you sit, what is happening is you’re invoking a series of events, which could precipitate the development of diabetes. Similarly, your body’s handling of blood fat and the lining of your blood vessels are adversely affected. These metabolic consequences, which precipitate a series of chronic illnesses, can be serious. It is a sobering fact also that people who are prone to sit more, tend to die earlier. So the disease burden appears to be associated with prolonged sitting.

The best way you can start to make some changes around your sitting behaviour is to arrange to stand up and move more often. Even small changes will help. You could make it a habit that you stand up to take phone calls; walk to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing; and position commonly used equipment in your work or home environment so you have to get out of your chair and walk more often. Make it normal to walk while you talk. If you are involved in having meetings, change them to walk and talk meetings. Everyone who is able to walk will benefit. Research indicates that meetings conducted whilst walking and talking will be ten minutes shorter; no one will fall asleep; and participants are likely to have a higher level of concentration! If you are a bit of a ‘couch potato’ then by just getting up and walking around the room every 20 minutes for one or two minutes, your health outcomes will significantly improve.

So try to change your behaviour around this and become more active while also changing your expectations and those of your friends and colleagues around activity levels. If you know you are improving your future health by making these very small but significant changes in your daily habits, and it is easy for you to sustain these changes, then you are more likely to make it your new ‘way of life’. Simply don’t allow yourself to continue to be sedentary because you now know better!

In a nutshell, too much sedentary time is not good for your health and if you don’t break up your sedentary time frequently throughout the day, you will have a poorer health profile than people who are frequently getting up and moving about. This can be described as the ‘prolonger’ versus the ‘breaker’. You can still be sitting for a long time overall, as a lot of people are confined to chairs for different reasons, but if you break it up and go for short walks or do a few squats or other exercises, it’s better for your overall health especially the health of your cardiovascular system.

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