For Health and Longevity, Every Movement Counts

For Health and Longevity, Every Movement Counts

You work out every day and do a combination of aerobic and resistance training. You even eat right to support your training and to slow the aging process. That’s commendable! Yet there’s one thing you might not be tracking closely – how much you sit when you’re not working out.

Longevity: The Growing Problem of Sedentary Behavior

Why is “sedentary behavior” so concerning? According to research, being inactive is linked with greater mortality, irrespective of whether you do a structured workout. In fact, a study published in the British Medical Journal showed sitting less than three hours a day Could increase life expectancy by two years or more. That’s significant!

Unfortunately, we live in an age where many people hide their faces behind a computer screen for 6 to 8 hours a day and rarely get up to take a break. Plus, how many people walk to work anymore? Instead, the average person sits in a car and drives to work before sitting for 8 or more hours. And after work? They come home and collapse in front of the television or computer before heading to bed. Once they drift off to sleep, their body again goes into hibernation mode.

Here’s the problem. Three or four hours of structured exercise a week has well-described benefits but it can’t compensate for hours during the day of little or no movement. In fact, researchers now believe that lack of structured exercise AND sedentary behavior are independent risk factors for health problems and greater mortality.

What ARE sedentary behaviors anyway? They’re pursuits that require minimal energy expenditure, like driving, working on a computer, and watching television, activities most of us do every day without thinking about it. Research has linked television viewing, in particular, with a higher risk for health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Could it be that people snack too much while watching the Tube? Not surprisingly, studies correlate television watching with obesity as well.

What’s interesting is a study showed watching television is harmful to metabolic health and blood glucose control even in people who meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity – at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. According to a study published in Diabetes Care, the metabolic risks of watching television are greater for women than men.

Here’s the good news. A new study carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute on Aging found that even modest quantities of movement added to the day can turn things around.

As part of the study, 3,000 middle-aged and older participants wore an accelerometer for a week. As they carried out their daily activities, the accelerometer recorded their every movement. After carefully documenting their activity levels, the researchers followed the participants for 8 years to see how many were still alive. The results? The least active participants were 5-times more likely to have died than the most active guys and gals.

What’s enlightening about this study is it showed even minor amounts of movement, like light housecleaning, walking from room to room etc., carried out over the day are beneficial for health and longevity. Those who did these types of activities, rather than sitting for long periods of time in a chair, were less likely to die over the 8-year period.

Longevity: A Laundry List of What Sitting Too Much Does to Your Health

When you look at previous studies, it’s easy to see that being sedentary, irrespective of whether you do a planned workout each day, is a health liability. As research shows, sitting too much is linked with a greater risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and increased mortality. When you sit for periods of time, your insulin sensitivity goes down and hormones, like lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which remove fats from your bloodstream become less active. The result is your metabolic profile takes a nosedive. When LPL is less active, your triglyceride level rises and HDL goes down – that’s a bad combo.

Plus, studies show people who have more active occupations – mail carriers, construction workers, athletes etc., when you control for factors like cigarette smoking and diet, have a lower mortality. In addition, sitting causes other problems too – like neck pain, back pain, and poor posture.

Longevity: Standing is Better Than Sitting

You might think STANDING in front of a computer is also sedentary behavior, but according to a study published in Exerciser Sports Science Reviews, standing is better for you metabolically, despite the lack of constant movement. When you stand you’re isometrically contracting the large muscles in your lower body.

Unlike sitting, which reduces the activity of LPL, the enzyme that removes fats from your bloodstream, standing does not. Therefore, you’re not getting the same degree of metabolic dysregulation when you stand. So, staying on your feet is better than sitting, but movement is better than both.

The Bottom Line

The best way to become less sedentary is to, first, become aware of how inactive you are. Start by keeping a journal. Carefully document when you’re active and when you’re sedentary. Then, make small changes to keep you on your feet and keep your feet moving. Can you elevate your computer monitor with books or a special platform made for that purpose so you can work while you stand? If you stand while working, you can always throw in some foot movements once in a while you work or even do air squats.

When you talk on the phone, don’t sit in a chair. Mobile phones free you up. Use that to your advantage by walking around as you talk. Set your iPhone to remind you to take a break from sitting every 20 or 30 minutes. Take a short walk, if you can, after lunch and dinner to improve insulin sensitivity and activate lipoprotein lipase, to remove fats from your bloodstream.

All of the extra movements you do throughout the day really matter and affect longevity. Remember to get enough structured exercise AND to stay active throughout the day. If you’re having a hard time monitoring your activity, a fitness tracker might be helpful. Whatever you do, make sure you’re taking movement breaks throughout the day.



BMJ Open 2012;2:e000828 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000828.

Diabetes November 2007 vol. 56 no. 11 2655-2667.

Int. J. Epidemiol. (2001) 30 (5): 1184-1192. doi: 10.1093/ije/30.5.1184.

Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010 Jul; 38(3): 105-113. doi:  10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2.

Diabetes Care. 2007 Mar;30(3):516-22.

J Epidemiol. 2012;22(1):50-6. Epub 2011 Dec 10.

Diabetes Care. 2008 Apr;31(4):661-6. doi: 10.2337/dc07-2046. Epub 2008 Feb 5.


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