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Too Much Sitting Can Be Very, Very Bad For Your Health

Too Much Sitting Can Be Very, Very Bad For Your Health

What besides smoking, fried foods, foods high in sodium, sugar, too much caffeine, etc., etc., etc., is bad for your health?


Yes, something that some Americans spend 9 hours a day doing (inevitably, if your workplace is Dilbert-esque), can be “lethal,” according to Dr. James Levine a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Levine is, according to the New York Times, a leader in a new area of research, inactivity studies, which is challenging commonly held beliefs about obesity and human health.

In a 1999 study, Dr. Levine posed the question of why different people can eat the same thing in the same portions, and one person gains weight while the other does not. As Dr. Michael Jensen, another Mayo Clinic researcher says, “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more.” That is,

They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t.

The New York Times then describes “your body on chairs”:

Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” [Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center] says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.

The New York Times also cites another study showing how bad too much sitting can be for your health:

Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.

That’s enough to make a person want to get up and start walking up the stairs or at least to retie a shoe string. Indeed, the researchers suggest that doing such small activities in between sessions of sitting can be beneficial. Dr. Levine calls such activity in small doses “NEAT,” for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In his research, he’s tracked obese subjects and found that they make only 1,500 daily movements and nearly 600 minutes sitting versus farm workers in Jamaica, who average 5,000 daily movements and only 300 minutes sitting.

Maybe that explains why that guy with the fidgety leg sitting at the desk besides yours (and who’s been diagnosed with ADHD) is so trim.

So it behooves us all to, yes, take that break from our desk — provided, of course, our footsteps aren’t only leading us to the office refrigerator.


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Photo by sylvar

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4:11PM PDT on Apr 3, 2012


5:56PM PST on Jan 22, 2012

At my work we can convert our normal workstation to one where we can stand a large part of the day instead of sitting providing we bring in a note from our doctor. This is something I will be doing in the near future. Since I need to use two different computers, I will have one setup so I stand and then have the other so that I sit when I need to use it.

5:56PM PST on Dec 2, 2011


10:34PM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

Very true. And one of the truths we don't really want to hear.

10:30PM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

Thanks for sharing the information. Let's get up and go.

4:23PM PDT on Aug 23, 2011

I use the Stand'nSit desktop workstation from StandinGoodHealth
It transforms an existing desk to a standing desk and then folds away when you need to sit down. Go from Standing to sitting and back again all throughout your day. It is a great solution and affordable at only $299.99!

1:03AM PDT on May 15, 2011

Good article. It's worth reading. Thanks.

12:48AM PDT on Apr 25, 2011

I agree with you, when I was younger, I went dancing a lot, and was always thin, no matter how much I ate, Now, I have trouble with my feet and back, don't get to dance much, I miss it, and I keep gaining weight, am on the computer a lot, however. can't win for loosing it seems. I do still dance around the house a lot.

6:26PM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

Any advice for the handicapped?

11:49PM PDT on Apr 21, 2011

thanks for sharing

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