Over the past decade, a message has spread in the name of public health:
This is based on the premise that sitting, like smoking, is a significant risk factor for chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Sitting is even worse than smoking, some suggest.
Is this accurate? Is sitting such a bad thing?
Inactivity And Chronic Illness
There is strong evidence that physical inactivity significantly increases your risk of tragic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, depression, type 2 diabetes, and colon and breast cancer. It can even shorten your life expectancy.
And similar to smoking (which is also a significant risk factor for chronic disease), inactivity and prolonged sitting are way too common.
Around the world, it’s estimated that 1 out of 5 adults is physically inactive, with even higher rates in the United States. And the consequences of this high degree of inactivity may be responsible for between 3-15% of overall health care costs.
The Dangers Of Sitting
More than just inactivity, the specific act of sitting has been shown to have harmful effects on your health.
Sitting for long periods can weaken the leg and butt muscles you need for standing and walking. This can then lead to an increased risk of falling and injuries.
It can ruin your hips, back, neck, and overall posture, which may cause disc compression and premature spinal degeneration.
Prolonged sitting can also cause deep vein thrombosis, a serious condition where blood clots form in the deep veins of your legs. These clots can then break off and travel to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal.
Stand Up For Your Health
The good news is that you can reduce your risk for all these chronic diseases by simply getting up and moving more throughout the day.
You don’t have to start running marathons or lifting weights to reap the benefits of physical activity. Adding a few minutes of moderate exercise to your daily routine can make a big difference.
But if you can, high levels of moderate-intensity physical activity each day (such as brisk walking or biking) can substantially attenuate the negative impact of sitting.
When you notice yourself sitting for a long time, make an extra effort to move around and do something else for a while. Set a timer if you have to.
Turn off the TV, stretch out your muscles, dance to some fun music, go for a walk around the block, or play with your kids or pets.
And when you are sitting, try to be more mindful of your posture so that you’re not putting unnecessary strain on your back and neck.