Sitting Can Take Years Off Your Life

Stand Up

By Kevin Whipps

Sitting. It’s one of those things that we all do, whether it’s relaxing on the couch after a long day at work, or during our regular 8-5 plugging away at a keyboard the way most Americans seem to do nowadays. Turns out that according to some studies, Americans can sit up to 15.5 hours a day — chances are pretty good that you’re sitting while you read this very article. But all that extra time can be detrimental for your health, even taking years off your life in the process. Maybe you should stand up.

It makes sense; our bodies were designed to spend time hunting and gathering for food, not for bargains on the Internet. The very act of sitting in itself is for relaxation, and because of that, we’re not getting the exercise that our bodies crave. This means that our legs aren’t getting any use at all, causing the electrical energy in our legs to shut down, and lowering our calorie burning rates to just one per minute. One in three Americans is obese — this is how we got there.

But wait, it gets worse. This isn’t just about putting on a few extra pounds and not fitting into that comfortable pair of jeans, it’s a problem that persists over the years. Just two weeks of sitting more than six hours a day — something we Americans do on a regular basis — causes the body’s bad cholesterol, insulin resistance and plasma triglycerides all shoot up, causing more risk for weight gain. Two weeks of this behavior can cause the muscles to atrophy, and then the maximum oxygen consummation of the body lowers as well. This means that even if you’re working out every day, you’re still deteriorating in the process.

Bump that number up to a year, and some studies suggest that women can lose up to one percent of bone mass a year because of this sedentary lifestyle. Ten to twenty years — the beginning of a career to some people — and the risk of dying from heart disease jumps 64 percent, risk of prostate or breast cancer shoots up 30 percent, and you shave seven quality adjusted years off of your life. No really, it’s that serious.

One would think that the suggested amount of exercise per day — 30 to 45 minutes — could counteract this problem, but that seems to not be the case. We’re all so busy nowadays that eating our lunches at our desks seems fairly common. We don’t go for walks around the office just to get a cup of coffee, because we keep large containers of water on our desks. We all have pain in one form or another from sitting too much, whether it’s in our legs or our backs. So what do we do to fix it?

Option 1: The Standing Desk

Standing all day isn’t exactly our idea of comfortable, but for many Americans, it can be a real improvement in their current working conditions. By standing, the leg muscles continue to stay active, and your body functions normally. Also, one thing that many people who use standing desks report is an improvement in posture. People who work at standing desks find themselves straightening up more often, keeping their back in proper alignment.

This isn’t to say that a standing desk is the best option, because it comes with its own series of problems — an increase in varicose veins, for example — but it is an improvement over sitting all day. Making the transition can be pretty difficult for most people to do, so try using a stool or a chair with a higher seating position for the first few weeks, and alternating between the two. It’s also important that the standing desk be position for your body — arms at a 90-degree angle to the keyboard and the monitor at about eye level or a bit below — otherwise, you’re not doing anyone any good.

Some take the standing desk option to extremes. There are companies that sell treadmills with integrated desks, which may be best if you’re adamant about getting your daily exercise or walking 50 miles a day. Whichever option you choose, getting off your seat is definitely an improvement.

Option 2: Buy a Pedometer and Use It

If you own a smartphone, you can probably buy an app that has a pedometer built in, or you can just buy a standalone unit for a few bucks at your local sporting goods store. Find out where you’re really at, because the number might even be less than a mile a day — and that’s not good.

Start adjusting your activity to making those numbers go up higher. Take little steps (pardon the pun) to increase your daily counts, but as you adjust, you’ll find yourself getting healthier and counteracting all that sitting time.

Option 3: Stand Up at Least Once an Hour

Counteracting the sitting problem involves getting up, and even just doing so for a little bit can help. Once an hour (you can set a timer on your phone or computer if it helps), get up and do something — anything — that involves being on your feet. Whatever it is, just stand up.

Try standing up at your next office meeting, or even challenge other people to do the same. You’ll find that the meeting goes a lot quicker, because people are not only more focused, but they’re not going to fall asleep while they’re on their feet.

Option 4: Seek Treatment

None of these may be options in your scenario, and in that case, you’re going to want to find a proper pain specialist. Counteracting all the bad things that happen while sitting aside, aggravating that bad back condition or exacerbating your sciatica can really make the whole process uncomfortable, and no one wants to deal with that.

And while you’re at home, make sure to get that exercise and stand as much as possible. Remember: this is a race that’s won sometimes in minutes, and no one wants to shave years off their life because they spent too much time on the couch.