Sitting has recently been dubbed “the new smoking,” as medical experts have linked it to heart disease, diabetes, and even certain forms of cancer. Unfortunately, many of us spend hours sitting at desks during the workday, then log more time at home in front of our phones, tablets, or the TV. So, just how bad is it for us to stay sedentary for most of the day, and what can we do to address the dangers?
3 Risks of Sitting All Day
Inactivity causes the metabolism to slow, which eventually translates to weight gain. Sitting burns just 139 calories per hour, while standing and walking burns many more – 186 and 324, respectively. Thus, the less you move each day, the fewer calories you’ll burn. Weight gain can ultimately lead to obesity, which is linked to serious health concerns including heart disease and stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Long periods of sitting have been associated with reduced insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity refers to the body’s reaction to the effects of insulin. High insulin sensitivity allows your body to use glucose effectively and keep blood sugar levels in control. When insulin sensitivity dips too low, it leads to insulin resistance, in which the cells cannot absorb glucose properly. As a result, blood sugar levels increase, and left unaddressed, the condition leads to type 2 diabetes.
Elevated Disease Risk
In addition to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, sedentary lifestyles are also associated with elevated odds of other serious diseases. In particular, research from the National Cancer Institute shows people who sat and watched TV for at least 7 hours a day have a risk of death from any cause that’s 61% higher than their peers who watched less than an hour. For cardiovascular mortality, the risk increased 85%, while the increased risk for cancer was 22%. Of course, many individuals spend at least seven hours seated without watching TV, between time spent at their desks, commuting, dining, and relaxing.
What Can You Do to Minimize Your Risks?
While you may not be able to change the nature of your work or commute, there are plenty of ways to minimize the effects of sitting. For one, regular exercise can significantly improve health and reduce mortality risk. One study shows that getting 150 to 299 minutes of exercise each week can help offset the risk of deadly conditions associated with sitting.
In addition, it’s also important to take periodic breaks from sitting throughout the day. Set a timer for every hour to stand up, stretch, and walk around the office. Take trips to talk to your co-workers instead of emailing them when possible. Find small ways to inject more movement into your day, whether it’s taking the stairs or parking in a remote space in your lot. All of these little actions can add up to a big positive impact on your health.