It sounds like a something that would happen in Roald Dahl’s The Twits, but “Sitting Disease” is a real modern epidemic. It is not a medical diagnosis, but is rather a term used when referring to metabolic syndrome and the ill-effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle.
We all sit too long, but exactly how long might surprise you. Sitting when driving, working, watching TV, reading, and eating all adds up, so that on average a person spends an astonishing 8 hours every day sitting.
Sitting too long matters because when you sit too long various things start to happen in your body: Your heart rate slows and muscles burn less fat, which makes those fatty acids more likely to stick to your arteries. Your body becomes less responsive to insulin, causing your body to accelerate insulin production. Your abdominal contents are compressed, slowing down digestion. Your hips become stiffer as they are extended less. Your venous circulation in your legs is reduced, and blood pools in your feet. Conversely, within 90 seconds of standing up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol (which are mediated by insulin) are activated.
The long term effects of “Sitting Disease” are startling. In 2012 researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester assessed nearly 800,000 people from a range of countries. They found incredibly strong evidence linking excessive sitting to poor health. People who sit over 6 hours are 112% more likely to develop diabetes, 147% more likely to suffering a stroke or heart attack, and are 49% more likely to die from any cause. This means that, for people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking. They are also more likely to suffer other health problems such as venous leg ulcers, deep vein thrombosis, and osteoporosis.
You might be tempted to think that your time spent at the gym or doing other exercise would counteract this effect, but no. Surprisingly research from Medical College of Wisconsin showed that these detrimental effects of sitting were just as strong in people who exercised regularly. The only way of reducing sitting disease is to sit less.
Have a think about how much time you spend sitting and consider what you could do to sit less:
1. Try to cycle or walk rather than use the car.
2. Think about multitasking when watching the TV. Do some ironing, pace the room, use an exercise bike.
3. Pace about when on the telephone. You will be amazed how it changes your conversation.
4. If you work, try to be active during your lunch break.
5. Get a dog! People with dogs tend to walk more.
6. Take up an activity like golf or rambling – one that takes several hours to complete.
7. Adopt active sitting – for example sitting on a Swiss Ball will ensure that you core muscles remain active.
8. Consider a sit-stand desk at work. Sitting burns 1.02 calories a minute, standing burns 1.36, which equates to 160 extra calories burned per day.
9. When driving long distances always take short breaks to stand up, stretch and move.
10. Lastly, be a fidget and exercise as you sit. Try raising your legs, try drawing the alphabet on the floor with your feet, jiggle your legs; anything. Just don’t be still!