You don’t smoke, you limit alcohol consumption, you eat a clean, organic diet, and you exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. You are doing everything you can to protect your health and heart, right?
Not necessarily. Are you sitting down? If so, you may want to stand up for this. You may want to keep standing. Research is piling up to suggest that sitting down for long periods is quickly becoming one of the most prevalent health concerns in this modern world.
With the rise of technology-driven jobs and the increase of robot laborers in the workforce, humans have become increasingly dependent on chairs, couches, and other reclining forms. The average American sits for 10 hours a day, over two-thirds of the average time spent awake.
While this may not seem like a big deal, such a sedentary lifestyle is connected to the alarming rise of diabetes, heart disease, and chronic pain. So what can you do to combat these effects? If you spend most of the day in a chair, you might want to invest in a standing desk: it could save your life.
Before we begin, get up, get a drink of water, and walk around for five minutes. You’ll thank me later.
Is sitting the new smoking?
Some sensationalist headlines love to spout that “sitting is the new smoking.” Is this true? Studies have shown that smoking can increase the risk of death by 180 percent, while sitting for long periods at a time can increase the risk of death by 25 percent.
However, these hazardous activities are similar in that it has taken some time for the populace to comprehend their dangers. Before the 1960s, cigarette boxes didn’t contain a warning label, as the connection between lung cancer and tobacco use was still new.
The same is true with sitting. With the rise of sedentary occupations, doctors and researchers are just starting to communicate the risks associated with them more clearly. Should desk chairs come with warning labels? That’s a topic for another day.
Sitting and the heart
While it has risen to the forefront of general knowledge in recent years, the connection between excessive sitting and heart disease isn’t new. An extensive study of London bus drivers in 1958 found an alarming link between the two. The study evaluated about 31,000 conductors and drivers for the London transportation system and found that:
“Men in physically active jobs [conductors] have a lower incidence of coronary heart disease in middle-aged men than have men in physically inactive jobs [drivers]. More importantly, the disease is not so severe in physically active workers, tending to present first in them as angina pectoris and other relatively benign forms, and to have a smaller early case-fatality and a lower early mortality rate.”
Those who performed jobs with higher physical activity levels had lower rates of cardiovascular events than those in sedentary positions. This isn’t the only evidence either; numerous studies have continued to reveal the alarming results of sitting too much.
The heart is a muscle and needs to be worked throughout the day to function properly. Over time, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to fatty buildup in the arteries. The arteries then become clogged and prevent proper blood flow to the heart. This can cause various potentially deadly issues such as heart attack and stroke. Are you convinced it’s time to get a standing desk, yet?
Other health dangers of sitting too much
While many studies have evaluated the adverse effects of sitting too much, one long-term study of over 125,000 adults revealed the scary connection between sitting and eight of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. It specifically looked at sitting during leisure time once the workday was over.
The researchers discovered that those who sat for six or more hours in their free time were 19 percent more likely to die over the next 21 years than those who had more active after-work activities.
The study found that the more sedentary participants had a higher risk of death from cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, COPD, digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.
Sitting can lead to:
- Musculoskeletal issues – The bones begin to weaken over time, leading to inflammation in the body, joint problems, and chronic pain.
- Diabetes – Sitting for long periods affects insulin resistance, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Weight gain – Sitting for hours at a time causes energy intake to exceed energy expenditure, contributing to fat stores and weight gain.
- Stress – Physical activity increases the development of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), associated with a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). This protein decreases when the body is still for long periods, contributing to stress and other mental health concerns.
How a standing desk could save your life
Although it is easy to recognize the dangers of sitting, it can be harder to find ways to reduce time spent seated, especially in a sedentary occupation. If you work in a job that requires you to be in front of a screen or tied to your desk, one of the best investments you can make for your health is a standing desk.
As the name suggests, standing desks are tall or adjustable desks that allow you to stand and accomplish the same work as you would while sitting in a chair. Many options are available.
Simple desk converters go on top of your current desk to lift your computer to standing height and are a great option if you want to test out the idea of standing while working.
You can also invest in a motor-operated, convertible standing desk. These standing desks can be programmed to the desired height and allow you to transition from sitting to standing at the push of a button.
Health benefits of a standing desk
The health benefits of a standing desk are profound. Evidence suggests that standing at your desk after lunch can reduce your blood sugar spikes after eating by as much as 43 percent. One study indicates that cutting the time spent sitting to three hours a day could increase lifespan by almost two years!
If you frequently experience back pain, a standing desk may be the answer. A study published by the CDC found that participants who used a standing desk for just four weeks saw a 54 percent decrease in neck and back pain.
If you choose to utilize a standing desk, be sure to wear quality shoes with supportive insoles and use an anti-fatigue mat to add a little comfort to your work area and keep you from becoming tired of standing.
Ways to combat sitting too much
Along with utilizing the power of a standing desk, here are a few other ways to be mindful of your sitting habits and help combat the adverse effects of sitting too much:
- Refill your water bottle every hour – The benefits of this habit are twofold. Not only will it encourage you to get up and get your blood flowing, but it will also inspire you to drink more water, which is critical for proper bodily functions. Take the long way to the water cooler and do a few laps around the office while you’re at it.
- Take stretching breaks –Breaking out a yoga mat may not necessarily be acceptable in an office setting. However, if you work from home, you can take advantage of the privacy and add a few stretching breaks to your day. If you work in an office, be sure to spend time stretching when you get home. This can help reduce joint and muscle stiffness associated with sitting.
- Be sure to exercise – Walks around the office, stretching, and standing desks are excellent tools to minimize the harmful effects of sitting. Still, none are a replacement for regular, intentional exercise. Thirty minutes of exercise each day is ideal, but even 15 minutes each day is better than nothing, and a 15-minute high-intensity interval program is a fantastic option. Consistency is key, as the benefits of daily exercise are magnified over time.
How to sit properly
Believe it or not, there is a way you should be sitting. We all should indeed be sitting less, but sometimes it is impossible to avoid. During those times when sitting is a necessity, follow these five simple steps to protect your body:
- Spend about a minute adjusting your posture. Take 30-60 seconds after you first sit down to relax your breathing, change your posture and take stock of how you feel in your chair. If something feels uncomfortable or awkward, investigate and adjust.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor. Adjust your chair so that your feet easily touch the floor and don’t dangle in mid-air. This can help ground you and give you a steady base for your spine.
- Pull your shoulders back and straighten your spine. Focus on lifting through the crown of your head, pulling your shoulders back, and elongating your spine. Almost as if you are trying to create space between your vertebrae.
- Tweak your workstation. Invest in a quality, ergonomic chair. Though a standing desk is your best bet for health, make sure to prioritize your health when you have to sit. It should be adjustable to allow your legs to be at a 90-degree angle to the floor and your eyes in line with your computer or primary screen. If you don’t want to purchase a new chair, consider using a pillow for lumbar support use a block or box for your feet to achieve a comfortable angle.
- Be mindful of how you’re sitting. Set a timer for every 15 minutes to remind yourself to sit intentionally. Even better, each time the timer goes off, get up and move around for at least a minute. Don’t allow yourself to get lazy and slouch or slump in your chair. Paying attention to your body is one of the best things you can do to help alleviate the stress associated with sitting.
Don’t let that desk chair take years off your life. Protect your heart, head, and body by standing up and fighting back against a sedentary lifestyle. Spend your free time going for walks, hiking, swimming, or gardening instead of sitting in front of the TV. Take the stairs or park in the back of the parking lot. Cultivate healthy habits now and reap the rewards for years to come. Invest in a standing desk — it could save your life.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD