The sitter's disease: What your chair-based lifestyle is doing to your health

The sitter’s disease: What your chair-based lifestyle is doing to your health

man standing from desk too much sitting

Sitting is a major part of our daily lives. Whether we are at work, school or relaxing at home, our modern lifestyle requires us to sit for long periods of time. We now understand that sitting for extended periods is associated with several negative health issues. In fact, prolonged sitting can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and premature death.

Some of the mechanisms behind these negative outcomes involve the electrical activity of the muscles. As soon as you sit down, your muscles go silent, leading to harmful, cascading metabolic effects. Your calorie burning rate plummets to approximately one calorie per minute, or roughly one third of what it would be if you were walking around. Insulin effectiveness also drops within a single day of extended sitting, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, your levels of good cholesterol (HDL) can also fall as the enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides plunge.

A 2009 study followed more than 17,000 Canadians aged 18 to 90 for 12 years to determine the association between sitting time and mortality, independent of physical activity (Katzmarzyk et al). Total daily sitting time was positively associated with mortality rates from all causes, except cancer, in the combined sample of men and women. This study also suggests that those who spend the better part of their day sitting will still have elevated risks of mortality, even if they are physically active. Therefore, physical activity in one’s leisure time cannot compensate for high daily sitting times, even if the amount exceeds the current physical activity recommendations (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise per week).

It’s still unclear how much sitting is considered too much; however, studies have shown that negative changes in the body can occur within three to four hours. Modifications to your lifestyle can be beneficial in alleviating your sitting time and ultimately reducing your risk of health issues.

For example, try setting an hourly alarm to remind yourself to stand up, stretch, walk around, or exercise. Alternatively, moving for several short periods throughout the hour can have the same benefit.

Setting a daily activity target can be a great way to counter your chair-based inactivity. Try using a pedometer or activity tracker to aim for a certain amount of steps per hour throughout the day.

Purchasing an adjustable standing desk is also an option. Standing desks address the problem directly and can allow you to burn more calories throughout the day than the sitting alternative. Whichever method you decide to use to reduce your sitting, the message is clear: stand up, move more, and move often!

If you’d like to learn more about solutions for your chair-based lifestyle, please book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable kinesiologists, who can assess your current fitness level and create a personalized plan for you.

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