If you sit all day at work, you may want to pay attention to recent research which demonstrates that prolonged sitting at work raises the risk of dying from cardiac and metabolic diseases, as well as the risk of dying from all causes, even if you work out or exercise.
When we look at the human body, it is easy to see that it is not made to sit… it is made to move. The body moves and functions at its best when it is in proper balance… the idea that all muscles are strong relative to each other. Balance is an on-going life process, but can easily be started by first addressing the sitting weaknesses.
Sitting for long periods of time actually changes the way your body works. Conditions related to sitting for too long affect worker health, productivity, and the bottom line.
The old saying is “Use it or lose it.” In truth, it should be “Use it to keep it” or perhaps even …”Use it right or lose it”.
In most developed economies, physical inactivity is so deeply entrenched that it has become the norm. Emerging economies are following fast. The problem is much bigger and its consequences are far more radical than people may realize. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that the problem, its costs and its consequences are passed forward across generations, creating a cycle of poor physical and emotional health, and tragically wasted human potential.
Just a few generations ago, physical activity was an integral part of daily life. In the name of progress, we’ve now chipped away at it so thoroughly that physical inactivity actually seems normal; the economic costs are unacceptable, the human costs are unforgiveable.
This is a situation that health infrastructures, social services and national economies cannot possibly endure. Physical inactivity is now an epidemic and we must act urgently to break its deadly cycle.
Perhaps most dangerous of all is that physically inactive parents pass along the same patterns to their children. By the time a child leaves high school, she will have sat for more than 40,000 hours, over half of her waking life.
Sport, and more importantly our children, will not thrive if populations are not physically fit and if the world has a physical inactivity epidemic as a backdrop.
Knowledge of the consequences of physical inactivity has been emerging for years.
Benefits go beyond physical well-being. Individuals and communities are more competitive overall with the comprehensive spectrum of benefits that accrue from a physically active lifestyle.
And, if we reach children when they are young enough, before age 10, they can learn to love physical activity and sports for life. They’ll reap the rewards and pass them on to the next generation.
People don’t need the experts to tell them that sitting around too much could give them a sore back or a spare tire. The conventional wisdom, though, is that if you watch your diet and get aerobic exercise at least a few times a week, you’ll effectively offset your sedentary time. A growing body of inactivity research, however, suggests that this advice makes scarcely more sense than the notion that you could counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging. “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting,” says Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
The human body is designed to be upright and weight bearing on two feet, with the hips extended under the spine to support the torso and head. This bipedal position has enabled us to move around for thousands of years and accomplish the various tasks needed for survival. Unfortunately for our body, the Industrial Revolution paved the way for standardization and automation of many tasks.
The technological advancements of computers over the past 50 years have taken things further and launched us into a brand-new era that diminishes the need for coordinated multiplanar movements in our daily lives. Instead of standing erect and walking upright, people are spending more and more of their time in seated positions. Extended seated postures have a detrimental effect on various soft-tissue structures and muscles throughout the body.
The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching “Wheel of Fortune.” But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton 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.
Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. The opportunity and perceived necessity to move in modern life has declined dramatically. What hasn’t changed is that we still need to be physically active to survive.
But what does physical activity actually mean?
There is no one single right way to move, but if you let muscles and joints stop moving, over time the overall body loses the ability to move. Today 70% of the American workforce sits on the job.
The design problem is largely societal. While the body thrives on movement and variety of position, the work we do today doesn’t require much of our bodies. It’s all brain work. And while movement does improve creativity and concentration, workers who have the freedom to get up regularly don’t take advantage of it.
It seems we persist in equating productivity with sitting at our desk for hours at a time, or we worry that co-workers will think we’re slacking off. Even standing up in the middle of a meeting to stretch is considered a sign of disinterest, rather than an effort to rejuvenate. Workers who are tethered to their desks and allowed only a few short breaks at scheduled times, e.g., call center employees, have it particularly hard.
Even if you think you are energetic, sitting all day at work is common for most of us. And it’s killing us—literally—by way of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. All this downtime is so unhealthy that it’s given birth to a new area of medical study called inactivity physiology, which explores the effects of our increasingly butt-bound, tech-driven lives, as well as a deadly new epidemic researchers have dubbed “sitting disease.”
Sitting disease or more accurately, metabolic syndrome, is a condition where the Lipoprotein Lipase enzymes in the blood vessels essentially go to sleep after 60 – 90 minutes of inactivity.
These enzymes are responsible for metabolizing fats and sugars in the blood stream. Physical movement is thought to stimulate enzyme activity and improve cholesterol & regulate blood sugar. Lack of movement and low enzyme activity contribute to weight gain, diabetes and a reduction in HDL- the good cholesterol.
Another downside to sitting is the lack of contact with the Earth, since most of us are sitting indoors. For most of our evolutionary history, humans have had continuous contact with the Earth, but this is certainly not the case today.
We are separated from it by a barrier of asphalt, wood, rugs, plastics, and especially shoes. Living in direct contact with the Earth grounds your body, producing beneficial electrophysiological changes that help protect you from potentially disruptive electromagnetic fields. Some of the EMFs closest to our bodies are those generated by the electronic devices that have practically become a modern appendage – like smart phones and iPads.
Research indicates Earth’s electrons are the ultimate antioxidants, acting as powerful anti-inflammatories. Your immune system functions optimally when your body has an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot/bare skin contact with the Earth.
Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”
It all adds up, and it all matters.
“Humans sit too much, so you have to treat the problem specifically,” says Hamilton. “The cure for too much sitting isn’t more exercise. Exercise is good, of course, but the average person could never do enough to counteract the effect of hours and hours of chair time.”
Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Cancer Prevention Research Centre of the University of Queensland in Australia says that’s one big reason so many women still struggle with weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol woes despite keeping consistent workout routines.
“Your body adapts to what you do most often,” says Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S., a Men’s Health advisor and physical therapist in Indianapolis, Indiana. “So if you sit in a chair all day, you’ll essentially become better adapted to sitting in a chair.” The trouble is, that makes you less adept at standing, walking, running, and jumping, all of which a truly healthy human should be able to do with proficiency. “Older folks have a harder time moving around than younger people do,” says Hartman. “That’s not simply because of age; it’s because what you do consistently from day to day manifests itself over time, for both good and bad.”
Life is motion.
When we stop moving, we stop living, which is why staying active is the number one desire of people as they age. When you talk to healthy people over 80, they will almost unanimously say their secret is “keeping active.”
If you want to move well when you are old, you must keep your body moving well as you age.
But, make no mistake: “Regularly exercising is not the same as being active,” says Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D. Our bodies and our muscles work best when they are worked, and then allowed to rest. When muscles are not rested they become tight, resulting in the chronic “tension” which plagues people who don’t move their body. Your body has a need to move.
It kills all our lame excuses for not exercising (no time for the gym, fungus on the shower-room floor, a rerun of The Office you haven’t seen). Now we have to redefine “workout” to include every waking moment of our days.
If you are typing at a computer for an hour, when you stand up your ﬁrst instinct is to stretch. When people undergo surgery, they are now required to get up and move around as soon as possible (even though they don’t want to). Studies show people heal much better when you get them moving.
The chair you’re sitting in now is likely contributing to the problem. “Short of sitting on a spike, you can’t do much worse than a standard office chair,” says Galen Cranz, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. She explains that the spine wasn’t meant to stay for long periods in a seated position. Generally speaking, the slight S shape of the spine serves us well.
A Danish doctor who was among the first to raise flags about sitting 50 years ago. “I visited Herman Miller a few years ago, and they did understand. It should have much more height adjustment, and you should be able to move more. But as long as they sell enormous numbers, they don’t want to change it.”
Much of the perception about what makes for healthy and comfortable sitting has come from the chair industry, which in the 1960s and ’70s started to address widespread complaints of back pain from workers. A chief cause of the problem, companies publicized, was a lack of lumbar support.
But lumbar support doesn’t actually help your spine. “You cannot design your way around this problem,” says Cranz. “But the idea of lumbar support has become so embedded in people’s conception of comfort, not their actual experience on chairs. We are, in a sense, locked into it.”
We are designed to move well, sit well and play well within our environment. It is up to us to teach our body to do these things as it is designed to. We can only deprive our body of what it requires for so long before it begins to rebel against us physically.
The chair-based lifestyle” is not limited to simply a quest for better physical health. “Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day,” he said. “The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of the nation to rise.”
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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Julia, thanks for including one of our Soul Seat videos. I’m so pleased to see you quoted Galen Cranz. She recently evaluated one of our products and we’re now listed with Association of Body Conscious Design. You might like my TEDx talk here http://youtu.be/M2NHvpM9PWU, or simply google “sitting is the new smoking” and look for videos.
WOW! Thank you. I will definitely take a look.