I think we’ve all heard the tragic news by now that sitting is bad for you. Like, really, really bad for you. It seems so innocent. How can relaxing and literally doing nothing be harmful? Though it seems benign, we can add sitting to the list of things that can lead to your demise, along with a poor diet, smoking, and numerous other “bad” behaviors.
The simple assumption is that sitting is bad because if you’re not standing or moving, you’re not burning calories. That’s part of the equation, but it’s not just about weight gain. A new study shows that those who sit more are more likely to be disabled by 60. Now, at the ripe age of 29, 60 still sounds like a time far in the future to me, but it’s not. Sixty is by no means old. Sixty is not use-a-walker old, or rent-a-scooter old, or even walk-slowly old. Sixty is a mature adult; not a hunched-over great-grandpa.
If sitting isn’t just about not burning calories, what’s the big deal? Sitting triggers the body to send signals to the brain — signals you don’t want your body to hear, like telling the genes that regulate fat storage and glucose control to take a break. We’re actually confusing our body’s internal regulation. According to Discovery Fit & Health, when you sit, the enzymes that help your body burn fat drop by 90% instantly, and your overall calorie burn drops to one calorie per minute. After two hours of sitting, your HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) drops by 20%. Not to mention the havoc sitting can wreak on your spine, hips, and glutes.
Researchers at Northwestern University found that regardless of how much exercise they got, for each additional hour they sat, people over 60 increased their disability risk by nearly 50%. While this sounds a little incredulous, the statistics back it up: almost half of all people age 65 and older have a disability that interferes with their daily living activities. I sure hope I’m not going to be one of them. It’s not looking good considering not only am I sitting right now, but I’m lying on a bed.
The survey researchers looked at for this study showed that the average over-60-year-old spent nine out of 14 waking hours sitting down — nine! So much for the idea that retirement involves leisurely strolling the golf course all day long.
I know as a mom I spent an awful lot of time sitting despite the fact that it feels like I spend half my day chasing a rambunctious toddler. So why are we setting ourselves up for a poor quality of life so soon down the road? Because it’s hard not to sit. Many people have desk jobs and few employers are hopping on the standing-desk trend. We sit to eat a meal, read a book, or do a puzzle with our kids. We sit on the floor to play with play-dough; we sit in the car driving to preschool. How are we supposed to stop sitting so much when we have a 21st century life to live?
Here are some ideas to help you start sitting less:
- Drink lots of water so you’re forced to take a lot of bathroom breaks.
- Sit on a stability ball instead of a chair.
- Put your computer on a shelf or high counter so you can stand while you work.
- Try doing “wall sits” or squat when you’re playing with your kids instead of collapsing on the floor.
- Take a lap around the house or office once an hour just because.
- Turn the ringer up on your cellphone, and put it in another room so you have to get up every time a ding or a ring goes off.
How are you going to stop sitting so much?
Photo credit: Heather Neal