Not so many hundreds of years ago, mankind’s greatest threat to survival was wild animals and other humans. Life was a battle and, thankfully, we adapted, survived and even thrived. Roll back the clock to two or three centuries ago and contagious diseases were arguably our greatest threat but, thankfully, most of those big, bad, bugs have now been tamed by modern, medical science.
However, the most insidious, sneaky, and serious threat to our health has yet to be eradicated. It can shorten your life significantly, contribute to poor health, cause back and weight gain and give you bad posture too. What is this evil lurking in the shadows? It’s what you are probably doing right now as you read this; sitting down!
Sitting down is very likely to be the biggest health threat that most of us face. It’s something we all do and modern life being what it is, we are doing more of it than ever before.
For many people, sitting down is common as breathing and a very large percentage of the population earns its living perched on a chair.
Most of us drive to work or school, spend the day sat at a desk, drive home and then sit in front of the TV or computer for our leisure time. Essentially, we have become sit-o-holics and many medical professionals are saying that sitting too much is the new cancer – like the old one wasn’t bad enough!
What’s so bad about sitting?
Sitting down all day and every day is linked to a number of otherwise avoidable diseases. In essence, being virtually stationary all day results in a condition called hypokinesis which literally means too little movement. Not moving enough, be it general physical activity or exercise, is associated with…
1. Low energy expenditure
Your energy expenditure is very low when you are sitting because the chair takes the strain so your muscles don’t have to. This increases your risk of gaining weight and being overweight is very unhealthy.
2. Metabolic syndrome
Lack of activity combined with the wrong sort of or too much food can lead to developing metabolic syndrome which is only a faltering heartbeat from diabetes and other serious diseases including coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Sitting is literally a killer than can hack large chunks off your quality of life.
3. Compromised posture
Long periods of sitting makes some muscles of your body short and tight and others long and weak. This will adversely affect your posture so that, even when you are stood up, your body looks like you are sat down. This can lead to knee, hip, back, shoulder and neck pain as well as loss of function.
4. Reduced social skills
Paradoxically, having access to the information superhighway can leave you isolated and alone due to a reduction in physical contact. There is less and less reason interact with people face-to-face and, as a result, many social skills are being lost and loneliness and depression are on the increase. People, it seems, need people if they are to be happy and healthy.
5. Chronic Pain
Many people find sitting to be literally a pain in the butt! Poor posture, inadequate lumbar support, badly set-up workstations and simply staying in the same position for extended periods of time can lead to chronic and otherwise avoidable pain. Pain is a common reason for not exercising which, ironically, would probably stop the pain. Prolonged sitting, especially in poor posture, also increases the risk of developing skeletal problems such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Low levels of physical activity are inextricably linked to an increased risk of developing several types of cancer including breast, corpus uteri, and ovary. In contrast, being less sedentary is linked to much lower incidences of cancer.
7. All-cause mortality
Probably the most shocking of all, long periods of sitting has been shown to be responsible for 6.9% of all deaths irrespective of gender, age, weight and physical activity level. It seems that even a few hours of exercise per week won’t offer much in the way of protection from the sitting disease.
Clearly, exercise is not enough to save you from the ravages of sitting but it definitely can help. However, research suggests that even hitting the gym a for few hours a week will not counterbalance the negative effect of spending almost every other waking hour of your day sat down. So, if sitting is the problem, moving more is the solution so here is how to inject more movement into your daily routine…
- Stand on the train or bus
- Walk for transport – especially for journeys of less than a mile
- Take the stairs and walk up escalators
- Set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
- Alternate working while seated with standing
- Place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing
- Stand or walk around while on the phone
- Take a walk break every time you take a water, coffee or tea break
- Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling
- Swap some TV time for more active tasks or hobbies
- Avoid long periods sat in front of a TV or computer
- Stand up and move during TV advert breaks
- Take up active hobbies such as gardening and DIY
- Join in community-based activities, such as dance classes and walking groups
- Take up active play with children or grandchildren
- Do most types of housework
- Get a dog and walk it often
- Avoid conveniences – look for the more labor-intensive way to complete your daily tasks
Sitting is literally killing us – as efficiently and brutally as any predator or contagious disease. However, you don’t have to be a victim – all you need to do is get up and move more. So, what are you waiting for? Get on your feet, get out and walk!