They say sitting is the new smoking.
But in my view it is much worse. Why? Because it is sooooooo ubiquitous. Pretty much every aspect of our lives is centred around sitting: our work, our travel, our leisure. Our society is structured in such a way that we need to make a special effort to reduce the amount we sit.
And it's imperative for our health that we do!
If you sit for more than 6 hours a day, you are classified as a “high sitter”
This means that you are at risk of suffering the health complications of a sedentary lifestyle, including obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, certain cancers, impaired cardiac health and even depression.
Most office-working professionals can easily clock up six or more hours of sitting time per day. And if this is you, it is vitally important that you make some simple-but-absolutely-necessary tweaks to your schedule to ensure you live a long and healthy life!
According to a 2019 study by the University of Sydney, people who sit for more than eight hours a day, and who don’t make the effort to engage in physical exercise, have a 107 per cent greater risk of cardiovascular death compared to those who do least one hour of physical activity a day and sit less than four hours.
The research shows that there are two ways we can reduce the risks of all the sitting we do each day:
The first way we can reduce our risk is to break up our sitting, and incorporate as much movement into our daily routines as possible.
That might mean, making an effort to take the stairs instead of the lift at work, to have walking meetings and catch-ups instead of sitting ones, to stand up when we are on the phone. I invested in a treadmill desk a couple of years ago, and I've found it to be a game-changer; not only did my daily step-count increase, my neck and back pain reduced too!
However, a 2019 study conducted by the University of Sydney found that simply making an effort to stand more throughout the day was not enough to mitigate the health risks from sitting in those people who sit for more than four hours per day (which is most office workers!)
To ensure we are offsetting the health risks of all the sitting we do, it is important to dedicate time EVERY DAY to exercise.
A high-quality study published in The Lancet in 2016 found that the risks associated with sitting for 8 hours each day could be reduced by undertaking an hour of moderate-intensity exercise - that equates to walking at around 5.6km/h or cycling at around 16km/h. Now if you can't commit to a full hour of exercise every day, don't give up in despair. The study found that even lower durations of exercise helped reduce health risks, albeit to a lesser extent.
In fact, the University of Sydney study referred to above found that if you are prepared to increase the intensity of your exercise just a little, 20-40 minutes of exercise per day can mitigate much of the health-risks of sitting.
Make an effort to be consistent about your exercise
When life gets busy, exercise can often be the first self-care item to fall off our lists. But the more sedentary you are throughout the day, the more important it is to make sure you are getting your daily dose of exercise.
A recent small study showed that, if you are highly sedentary, an hour of exercise here and there might not be enough to improve the adverse metabolic changes that occur when your body doesn’t get enough exercise.
Aim for moderate-to-vigorous daily exercise if you are a “high sitter”
Any movement is good for health - so please don’t throw your hands up in the air and declare it all too hard if you can’t fir o a full-on sweat sesh every day!
But the Sydney University researchers suggest that moderate to vigorous intensity exercise — where you “huff and puff” — are not only the most time-efficient, they also yield the most potent beneficial and protective effects!
Check with your doctor
If you are over 40 or have not yet formed an exercise habit, make sure you go to your GP and ask them to check you over and give you the all-clear.
So get moving! In whatever way you can, as often as you can!
Look for ways to squeeze movement into your day - every day!
Check out this great short video on the hidden health risks of sitting:
Ekelund, Ulf, et al. "Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women." The Lancet 388.10051 (2016): 1302-1310.
Emmanuel S, et al. Sitting Time, Physical Activity, and Risk of Mortality in Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Volume 73, Issue 16, April 2019
Atkins JD et al. Inactivity induces resistance to the metabolic benefits following acute exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 126Issue 4April 2019, 1088-1094