As you sit here and read this article, can you think of how often you sit during your day? Physical inactivity can be just as deadly as smoking, according to recent studies. Your body, even if you exercise, can suffer from a sedentary lifestyle. Americans spend nine to ten hours sitting each day!
Sitting at your desk working, browsing your phone, reading articles like this one, and sitting in front of the television at night can have many adverse effects on your body composition and your health.
It might seem like something you can dismiss just because everyone else is sitting all day too, but be careful. People who sit all day and don't take care of their bodies have been shown to be at risk, and without making changes, negative changes in body composition can have a huge impact on your health down the road.
But don't worry, it's not all doom-and-gloom: we'll give you a bunch of ideas of how you can be more active during the day at the end!
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death among Americans. Those who sit for extended periods of time, don’t exercise, and don’t take care of their nutrition can experience insulin resistance, which happens when insulin isn’t able to carry excess blood sugar out of your blood and into your muscles. When insulin resistance because significant, that’s type-2 diabetes.
One study of 3,757 women found that women who sat for eight hours a day had a 56 percent higher chance of developing diabetes. Diabetics tend to have more fat within their bodies, including inside their muscles and particularly more internal visceral fat, which can further encourage insulin resistance and keep them from being healthy.
To top it off, those diagnosed with diabetes experience a quicker loss of muscle mass than those growing older without diabetes, and that loss of muscle further worsens your body composition.
Enzymes that burn body fat decrease by 90% when sitting for an hour or longer. The enzyme involved with body fat burning is called lipoprotein lipase, or LPL. LPL’s role is to produce good cholesterol, or HDL, which helps with triglyceride levels.
In a 2003 animal study, rodents were forced to stay lying down for most of the day - like many Americans - and the researchers found that the LPL levels in their leg muscles decreased immensely. When they stood up, the enzyme was ten times more active! If the rats exercised, LPL was not even affected.
Although this hasn't been directly shown in humans yet, the impact of sitting throughout most of your daily life has been highlighted in resent studies.
In 2009, over 17,000 Canadians participated in a study about sitting and mortality, and unfortunately, no matter how old they were, how obese or skinny they were, or even if they exercised, the more time they spent sitting, the earlier they died. Recent studies, however, are finding some positive results - just one hour of physical activity can potentially offset the 8-hour sitting marathon many people perform in their offices.
When you sit, your gluteal muscles do absolutely no work; neither do your abdominal muscles and legs. When you stand, abdominal muscles, leg muscles, and gluteal muscles tighten.
When your muscles do nothing over and over again for extended periods of time, they can degenerate. If you sit for a long time, your hips may become weak and tight. The elderly who are not active can start to have falling episodes due to weak muscles.
Furthermore, because the size of your metabolism is linked with your body composition - more muscle creating a larger metabolism and more calories needed - any muscle loss can end up leading to fat gain if diet remains consistent. This is especially critical for people who sit all day because the part of their daily caloric burn associated with their muscle mass - their Basal Metabolic Rate - makes up the bulk of their total metabolism.
Less muscle, less calories needed, and greater chance for fat gain.
Not only is the blood flow to your brain slower, but the blood flow to your legs also becomes sluggish. Hanging your legs dependently puts them at a risk of blood clots with decreased circulation.
Standing has many benefits including an increase in energy, burns more calories, increases muscle tone, improves posture, and increases metabolism. Sitting slows the circulation, but one study showed a profound reduction in the vascular flow after sitting for three hours. Those who got up to walk around for two minutes, every hour, increased their lifespan by 33 percent.
Like muscles, bones are strong when they are used. Engaging in walking and movement which includes weight-bearing can increase the durability of bones. Long term sitting and inactivity can lead to weak bones and possibly osteoporosis over time.
Now that your day has been ruined because you are cursed with a desk job that lasts many hours, how can you make yourself more active, even at work? You have to become creative. Some tips are included below to assist in changing the way you work because it is critical to your health.
With all the technology available, kids are sitting now more than ever. Decreased activity throughout their lives will compromise their body composition and their health as they age. Limit their screen time, and involve them in sports. Give them "active" missions like treasure hunts. Be an example and stay away from screen time as much as you want your kids off it.
Think about your job, your life, and your sedentary lifestyle. Do you fit into the pocket of Americans that are sitting more during their day than standing? Take action to help prevent the adverse health outcomes from your lifestyle. Humans were not designed to sit, and now we know why.
So: now that you're at the bottom, close the tab, get out of the chair, and go walk! Your body with thank you for it.
Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB is a Registered Nurse certified in Obstetrics. She has been practicing in labor and delivery for over a decade. She developed her writing career in 2012, specializing in health topics. She, her husband, Adam, and two children Zachary and James reside in Cleveland, OH