If you work an office job, you probably spend hours sitting at a desk. With the advent of new technology, it’s easy to get almost anything done without leaving your chair. Heck, you can even order groceries online and have them delivered to your home. The downside? Your body isn’t made to be sedentary for long periods of time, especially when your bottom is perched in a chair for hours. Time to move more! Need some motivation? Here are five reasons why you should break the sitting habit.
Sitting Too Much: It’s Bad for Your Blood Vessels
Sitting diminishes the activity of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that helps remove fat from your bloodstream. Lipoprotein lipase, or LPL, is an important regulator of how your body uses and stores fat. When you perch your derriere in a chair too long, fat from the food you eat stays longer in your arteries. As you might have guessed, that’s not good for your heart or blood vessels. Take breaks to walk around or do stretches at your desk to boost production of LPL and help your body better process fat.
Sitting Too Much: It Increases Your Risk for Weight Gain
The more movement you add to your day, the more calories you’ll burn. When you switch from sitting to standing, over an 8-hour workday and you’ll burn almost 300 additional calories. Not too shabby! Day after day, the additional energy expenditure adds up. Standing, taking frequent walk breaks and even fidgeting more can add up to substantial calorie expenditure over a 24-hour period. Take advantage of these small changes you can make for your health.
Sitting Too Much: You’re at Greater Risk for Varicose Veins
We already know prolonged standing exacerbates varicose veins, but, according to John Hopkins, sitting leads to pooling of blood in the veins of your lower extremities. Over time, this weakens the walls of veins and the valves that regulate their flow. Once damaged, vessels dilate and form big, blue, dilated veins. What’s the solution? Add more movement to your workday. When you contract your leg muscles by walking, blood moves from your veins back to your heart instead of pooling in your legs and feet. Exercise also improves venous circulation and also helps prevent those unwanted varicosities.
Sitting Too Much: It’s Bad for Your Blood Sugar
In one study, researchers monitored blood sugar and insulin levels in a group of participants over a 5 hour period. One group sat the entire 5 hours without an exercise break. A second group did light physical activity (a 2-minute walk) every 20 minutes. A third group also walked around every 20 minutes but did a moderate-intensity activity. The results? The groups who did light or moderate activity at 20-minute intervals had blood glucose and insulin levels that were 20% lower than the group who sat for 5 hours straight. This suggests you don’t have to do strenuous activity throughout the day to avoid the health risks of sitting. Simply walking around every 20 minutes or so could have a significant impact on your metabolic health.
Sitting Too Much: It Increases Your Risk for Death
As if you needed more reasons to stop sitting so much, this one is the most motivating of all. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed sitting for more than 6 hours a day increased mortality by 37% for women and 18% for men, compared to participants who sat 3 or fewer hours daily. Men and women who sat long hours AND didn’t exercise regularly had an even higher mortality rate. Still, a formal workout isn’t enough to compensate for hours of sitting. A prior study showed sitting was linked with higher mortality even among fitness buffs who worked out daily.
Sitting Too Much: It’s Bad for Your Posture
Poor posture may not kill you, but it can lead to other problems like chronic back and neck pain. Plus, prolonged sitting leads to overly tight hip flexors. By reciprocal inhibition, this relaxes your glute muscles and sends them into “sleep mode.” To make up for weak glute muscles, your hamstrings take over, placing greater stress on your knees and back. The best way to reawaken your glutes is to sit less and do more exercises that specifically target your glute muscles like bridges and integrated movements like deadlifts, squats, and lunges. Do hip flexor stretches to loosen your overly tight hip flexors.
Sitting Too Much: Ways to Sit Less
If possible, do 2 or 3 short exercise sessions throughout the day rather than a single workout. If you work at home, load a DVD in your player and exercise when you need a break from sitting.
Sit on a stability ball instead of a chair. A stability ball engages your core. Plus, you can move and you bounce around on the ball throughout the day.
Take short 5 or 10 minute walks every hour, or, at the very least, stand up and stretch.
Walk when you’re talking on the phone. Get voice recognition software and record your voice as you walk instead of typing at your computer whenever possible.
Do isometric glute squeezes while sitting at your desk to activate your glute muscles.
Do triceps dips with your hands on your desk.
Use work breaks to move around instead of sit in the break room and talk or eat.
Keep exercise equipment in your desk drawer – resistance bands and hand weights. Use them every opportunity you can.
The Bottom Line
Don’t forget that too much sitting is a risk factor for health problems irrespective of getting too little exercise. Keep doing your regular workouts, but make sure you’re moving more in between your regular exercise sessions.
Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172 (4): 419-429. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq155.
Huffington Post. “Sitting Kills! Experts Say Too Much Sitting Could Be Deadly”
Diabetes November 2007 vol. 56 no. 11 2655-2667.
Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010 Jul; 38(3): 105-113.doi: 10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2.
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:1.
John Hopkins Medicine. “Varicose Veins”
PLOS One. “Sitting for just a couple hours has measurable (and negative) health impact” April 2012.
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