Too Much Sitting Can Be Bad for Your Health (Even If You Exercise)

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For the time that it takes you to read this article, please remain standing. The reason I ask you to do this is that too much sitting can be very bad for your health, even if you exercise regularly. It is also said that sitting is the “new smoking,” meaning that it is the one thing that, if you can overcome it, can have tremendous health benefits.

Most of us do this each day: drive to work, sit all day at work, drive home, come home and sit some more while we watch TV or use the computer. This is our 21st century sedentary lifestyle. All we have to do in order to feed ourselves is to drive to the grocery store. Gone are the days when we actually had to go out and find food for ourselves, which would have required – you guessed it – walking (and more)! And we only have to go out to the garage, hop in the car, and we can travel great distances without leaving our seats, and even when we reach our destination, there is often little walking necessary. These are the days of drive-thru Starbucks and ATM machines.

Those of us who sit too much each day are at a much higher risk for certain diseases – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, shorter life spans, to name a few. Even your daily workout will not combat the effects of sitting all day. This does not mean that you should stop your exercise routing. You just need to move more throughout the day. Surprisingly, there is a distinct difference between too little exercise, and sitting too much.

According to Dr. Jacquelyn Kulinski of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, sitting too much causes a 14% increase in coronary artery calcification. This is a sign of subclinical atherosclerosis, meaning that the calcification is happening inside your arteries, even though you don’t have any symptoms, yet. In Dr. Kulinski’s study, the average amount of time the research subjects spent sitting each day was 5.1 hours. However, by reducing your total sitting time per day by only 1-2 hours, this can significantly improve your long-term health outcome. Of course regular exercise is important to improve your overall fitness level, but by sitting less overall, this can have a big impact on your cardiovascular health.

So, what can you do to combat this “sitter’s disease?” Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you usually sit all day at work, take a standing break every half hour for about 5 minutes. Better yet, walk around the office a bit during this break. This will also burn twice as many calories as sitting.
2. Stand periodically or do some stretching while watching TV
3. Use a standing desk at work.
4. Park farther away from your destination so you can fit in a short walk.
5. Drink more water! Not only is it important to stay hydrated, but this will mean more trips to the restroom, so more walking.

Get creative, do whatever you can to stand more and sit less. This will increase your overall health and your lifespan.

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Teresa is a California licensed acupuncturist in San Francisco, CA

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