Is sitting killing you?

Dying to know what results in a shorter life, a bigger bum and a high chance of developing a chronic illness?

Sitting down.

Woman sitting

Being seated for long periods is emerging as one of the most dangerous practices of our modern world. With the advent of desk jobs, cars, computers and sedentary leisure activities such as watching TV and pinning on Pinterest, we spend practically all our waking time seated. And it’s making us fatter and sicker and robbing us of years of life.

The scariest part is that sitting is an independent factor. That means it doesn’t matter if you go to the gym, don’t smoke and eat salad for lunch. If you sit for long periods every day, you are at as much risk as your lazy neighbour.

Here is how you can interrupt all those hours of inactivity before you start to do some damage to your health.

Watch less TV

Every single hour of TV watching after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by almost 22 minutes.

The number of hours you spend glued to the TV is a useful, general marker of how much you engage in sedentary behaviour.

According to data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (pdf), Australian adults watched a staggering 9.8 billion hours of TV in 2008. Controlling the data for health variables such as smoking, the researchers could isolate the specific effects that hours of sitting may have on our life spans.

The news ain’t good. Every single hour of TV watching after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by almost 22 minutes. So, if you spend 6 hours a day watching TV for years and years, you could knock 5 years off your lifespan.

Don’t just exercise—move

A senior research fellow on the study, Dr J Lennart Veerman, points out that these dire results hold true even for people who exercise regularly.

He says, “A person who does a lot of exercise but watches 6 hours of TV per day might have a similar mortality risk as someone who does not exercise and watches no TV.”

We still do not know exactly why sitting should be so dangerous to health, even for those of us who are physically fit. The problem may be that when we sit our muscles don’t contract, they require less fuel and surplus blood sugar accumulates in the bloodstream contributing to the development of chronic illness.

David W Dunstan , a professor at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute says, “The most striking feature of prolonged sitting is the absence of skeletal muscle contractions, particularly in the very large muscles of the lower limbs.”

So, don’t let hours go by without moving. Have a critical look at how you structure your day for opportunities to get your large, strong muscles in your legs and back moving.

More tips on being active

Don’t stop exercising

It’s disheartening to think that your efforts at the gym cannot off-set the health consequences of a sedentary job, but that is no reason to stop. Here is a reminder of all the good things that exercise gives you.

Exercise is beneficial to our health and well-being and we all need to do it. However, just as you can’t use 4 or 5 workouts a week as an excuse to eat whatever you want, neither can you use them to justify spending 90% of your time on your bottom.

More reasons to get out of your seat

Scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana analysed the sitting time of more than 17,000 men and women over 13 years. They found that people who sit for most of the day are more likely to suffer complications associated with CVD. 

Researchers from the University of Missouri report that sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor  for chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease.

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