Surprisingly, a new study just released said sitting is a separate risk factor leading to heart disease, diabetes, and death. This is not good news for most Americans since we sit an average of eight hours a day.
Clearly, this study can’t be addressing active people like me. Are you saying after getting up at 6 a.m. and exercising for 45 minutes that sitting at my desk is a real risk to my heart? Unfortunately, that is exactly what this study is saying.
Do not despair, a little information can fix that.
So here you are, freshly scrubbed of all that exercise salt, sitting at your desk with your coffee, and bad things are happening. And it’s not your coffee causing the problem; that’s another story for another day.
Your blood is moving slower, allowing cholesterol to deposit in the artery walls. Sluggish circulation while sitting also can cause blood clots in the legs. They have examined this and found that people who sit the most have twice the heart disease of those who sit the least. Who knew?
You have no doubt heard that obesity and diabetes epidemics are serious problems for the health of Americans, and sitting plays a role in this. It’s obvious that you are burning fewer calories when sitting. And that’s not even counting the snacks, because who sits and doesn’t snack?
The insulin receptors in your muscles are less sensitive to insulin when you sit for prolonged periods. The pancreas reacts by making more insulin, which quickly becomes a viscous cycle. Insulin resistance is one of the key problems that causes Type 2 diabetes.
These hormonal changes from sitting also increase the rates of colon, breast, and endometrial cancer.
Sitting is also bad for your back and your posture. The trunk muscles that support your back are not working when you are sitting. Any muscle that gets little use for hours will begin to weaken. Poorly supported backs become painful. Trust me, building support for your back is much easier before it starts hurting.
So we can agree that sitting most of the time is a bad idea, which you probably suspected. But there’s also an easy solution.
The first suggestion is to invest $15 in a 30 to 35 inch therapy ball. They come in a number of bright colors, which is sure to brighten up any room. Use the ball as a desk chair. I did this for months and you make tiny micro adjustments constantly to keep from falling off the ball. This strengthens your back and eliminates most of the risk from sitting. It is almost effortless and allows you to work at normal speeds.
A stand-up desk can also solve the problem quite handily. Put in an extra monitor to bribe yourself into using the stand-up desk. It is surprisingly easy to adjust to standing all day. If you are the type of person who naturally leans toward excess, a rocking board to stand on increases the benefit with little pain (Steppie makes a solid one).
It seems the benefits from exercise are too numerous to ignore. Draw a line in the sand, and get to work.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Photos by Andrey Popov (featured) and Mike Focus/Shutterstock