The Price You Pay For A Sedentary Lifestyle

26 Feb, 2013


Most of us are a little guilty, no? Too much sitting, not enough…well, non-sitting? The scary facts and figures of a sedentary lifestyle have been plastered across media outlets and health campaigns for some time now, but if you’d like a quick memory refresher, here they are:

1.    Men who were sedentary for more than 23 hours a week had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who were sedentary less than 11 hours a week, according to a 2010 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

2.    A study of more than 17,000 Canadians found that the mortality risk from all causes was 1.54 times higher among people who spent most of their day sitting, compared to those who sat infrequently.

3.    According to an Australian study, sitting time is a predictor of weight gain among women, even after controlling for calories consumed and leisurely physical activity, such as exercise.

4.    People who use a computer for at least 11 hours per week or watch TV for more than 21 hours per week are more likely to be obese than those who use a computer or watch TV for more than 5 hours per week.

5.    Your risk of metabolic syndrome rises in a dose-dependent manner depending on your “screen time” (the amount of time you spend watching TV or using a computer). Physical activity has only a minimal impact on the relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome.

Unfortunately, going to the gym may not be enough…

Interestingly, research has also suggested a regular fitness regimen might be insufficient to counteract the effects of excessively sedentary habits during the remaining hours of the day, due to the adverse metabolic impact of sitting. Especially if the fitness regimen is focused around equipment that puts you back in a seated position like a recumbent bike or rowing machine. A 2009 study highlighted much of the contemporary evidence linking sitting with biomarkers of poor metabolic health, showing how total sitting time correlates with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other prevalent chronic health problems.

According to the authors:

Even if people meet the current recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days each week, there may be significant adverse metabolic and health effects from prolonged sitting – the activity that dominates most people’s remaining ‘non-exercise’ waking hours.”

In other words, even if you’re fairly physically active, riding your bike to work or hitting the gym four or five days a week, you may still succumb to the effects of too much sitting if the majority of your day is spent behind a desk or on the couch. Researchers have dubbed this phenomenon the “active couch potato effect.”

According to a New York Times article, after just an hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat in your body declines by as much as 90 percent. Extended sitting slows your body’s metabolism of glucose and decreases your HDL, which is the type of lipid you want MORE of, instead of less. This explains why those who sit habitually for extended periods of time have higher risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

What Do I Do If My Work Requires Me To Sit?

The key to sitting successfully is to stand up. Yes, that’s correct. The basic remedy is to get up and do a few simple exercises – but you have to do this frequently if you spend a lot of your life in a chair.

Walk around the office. Duck to the toilets or a spare room and do some star jumps. Anything to get your blood pumping, and your muscles moving. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you, every 45 minutes to break and move. Don’t leave it any longer than an hour, since that it when your fat-burning enzymes decline by 90%.