You may have heard the saying, “sitting is the new smoking”. This phrase highlights that sitting for prolonged periods of time can be as harmful to our health as smoking. This may seem like an alarming claim, but there is strong evidence to confirm this statement.
Prolonged periods of sitting are unavoidable for most of us in our daily lives. Recent research demonstrates the average person spends 60% of their waking hours sitting and this figure rises to 70% in people who are at a high risk of chronic disease. We sit at desks at work, in cars during our commute, and on the couch when we are relaxing at home. Research has shown that prolonged sitting can have seriously negative effects on our health. As an example, compared with those who watch less than 2 hours of television per day, there was a 46% increased risk of all-cause mortality and an 80% increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in those watching more than 4 hour of television per day. Interestingly, this was independent of traditional risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, leisure time exercise and waist circumference.
Increased risk of cardiovascular disease is one of the most significant health risks associated with prolonged sitting. Sitting for extended periods of time has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. This is because sitting slows down our metabolism, reduces blood flow, and causes our muscles to burn fewer calories.
Prolonged sitting can contribute to other health problems. For example, sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even some forms of cancer. This is because sitting for long periods of time can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity and increased inflammation in the body.
So, what can we do to reduce the negative effects of sitting?
- Stand up and move around more often. Set an alarm to take regular breaks to stand up and move during the workday. Go for a walk at lunchtime or schedule walking meetings if possible. These are a few simple, cost-effective ways to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
- Another solution is to invest in a standing desk or sit-stand desk. These types of desks allow you to work while standing which can help to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting each day. While these desks can be expensive, they may be worth the investment for those who spend a lot of time sitting.
- Engage in regular physical activity outside of work. Do something you enjoy as you are much more likely to do this activity regularly. Regular exercise can help to improve your overall health and reduce the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Prolonged sitting and sedentary behaviour in general can have negative effects on our health and is considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. There are simple steps you can take to break up periods of prolonged sitting and reduce the associated negative effects on your health. The key message is to minimise long periods of sitting and to stand up and move more frequently throughout the day, even if you are achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week.
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Written by James Murray, Cardiac Physiotherapist.