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How to Combat Sitting Down All Day

by Carly Neubert, BA, NC February 09, 2021

Take a seat and get ready to read about how to avoid taking a seat. In other words, too much sitting is bad for you, and it’s important to learn how it can affect your body, as well as how to combat it in daily life!

Research has correlated sitting down all day to numerous health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and even increased risk for death by cardiovascular disease and cancer. Nowadays, sitting all day almost seems like a requirement, from online schooling to long remote work hours.

Have you heard that sitting is the new smoking?

Sitting all day long may actually be more dangerous than smoking. According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking “kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting.”

This article will address ways to combat sitting in a variety of lifestyles, from the active on-the-go mom to the authoritative businessman, to the everyday college student. No matter who you are or where you come from, it is crucial that you take care of your body, and combating excessive periods of sitting is an exceptionally manageable task.

Why is sitting bad for me?

Of course, we all deserve a little rest and relaxation from time to time; however, too much of anything can be bad for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to those induced by smoking and obesity." 

A large contributor to these negative health effects is N.E.A.T, also known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is caused by the absence of non-exercise related activity such as fidgeting, standing, and walking around, which are all active participants in your daily calorie burn. Sedentary behavior such as sitting severely limits your calorie burning through N.E.A.T, which can lead to weight gain and possibly metabolic dysfunction later on in life. This is why, on average, people with obesity sit for approximately 2 hours more per day than normal-weight adults.

Sedentary behavior is also closely linked to over 30 chronic diseases and other harmful conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, studies have identified walking less than 1,500 steps per day as a key ingredient to developing insulin resistance, one of the main drivers behind type 2 diabetes. 

These factors have contributed to an overarching correlation between being sedentary and early death. An analysis of observational data from over 1 million people found that most sedentary people had a 22-49% greater risk of dying. As current events cause many of us to come to terms with our own mortality, it is imperative that we each stop to consider how we may be inadvertently harming our health through our everyday actions or inaction.

Sitting at a desk for too long?

Sitting at a desk is arguably the worst place in terms of your short and long term health. When you are sitting at a desk you are usually staring at a computer screen which causes eye strain and excess blue light exposure. Additionally, you may be hunching your shoulders or straining your hands and arms if you don’t have your desk set up for comfort and optimized for your posture.

We all understand the dangers of sitting on a chair for hours and hours, but what about sitting on the floor or sitting cross-legged? This common position is usually called “indian style” or “Turkish style.” In Korea it is known as “Yangban style”. And in the yoga tradition it is called Sukhasana or lotus pose.

Research has proven that sitting in any position for extended periods is harmful for your body. While sitting in the cross-legged position is great for hip and spine flexibility, staying in that position for too long causes lower back pain and excess pressure on your vertebrae. Squatting is another option that offers some benefits, but isn’t great for extended periods either.

There really isn’t a way around the issue: sitting, in any position, for long periods is not healthy for you.

How long is too long to be sitting?

Your ordinary modernized human can spend up to 15 hours a day sitting down. A fairly recent study determined that sitting down for more than 8 hours a day contributed to a higher mortality rate than those who spent 2-3 hours in a chair. Now, as our average workdays have transferred online, a large portion of adult workers may find themselves exceeding this 8-hour limit. 

This isn’t an end-all-be-all number when it comes to how long a person is able to, or should, sit during the day. The correlations between sitting time and increased mortality or risk of disease all depend on a person’s age, fitness level, and many other factors. However, the study mentioned above found that excessive amounts of sitting were damaging, even in the case of relatively active individuals.

How can I combat the effects of sitting all day?

Incorporating techniques that fit your own lifestyle can play a major role in whether or not you are successfully able to combat extended periods of sitting. For those of us who are currently working online from home, a standing desk can be a great way to get rid of this problem at its root. Simply standing in place of sitting while working can allow you to avoid some of the negative health impacts associated with sedentary behavior.

This goes for students as well. Whether you are in college or high school, standing while completing schoolwork can increase your blood flow, not only stimulating your brain but your metabolism as well. These are two key elements to combatting sitting.

Another simple and great technique is to get up and move around every once in a while. Holistic family physician and osteopathic practitioner Tudor Marinescu, M.D., Ph.D. tells her patients to take 10 minutes to stretch or move after every 50 minutes of sitting. For a college student, this can consist of a brief walk around one’s dorm or apartment complex in between classes. For the at-home office worker, it could be a quick stretch in the living room before an important meeting. Dr. Marinescu also recommends standing by a window and gazing outside for a few minutes to give your eye muscles a well-deserved break. 

By using this 50-10 method, you can prevent stagnation from accumulating in your body. Rather than waiting until the end of a 6-hour period to take a moment to stretch, you are consistently giving your body the opportunity to increase circulation and get some use out of your muscles. In doing so, you are also countering the large bouts of soreness that may occur at the end of a long workday.  

Some other activities that can ward off some of the effects of sitting all day and improve mobility overall are yoga, Pilates, and Egoscue.  I use Foundation Training, Bowspring Yoga, and my Hypervibe plate to strength my core so that I have proper posture when sitting. 

How does sitting down impact my mental health?

Sitting down all day isn’t just bad for your physical health, it has some adverse effects on your mental health too. Just like the rest of your body, your brain relies on adequate circulation and a functional metabolism to work properly. Because of this, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to brain malfunctioning. Watching TV, flipping through emails, or scrolling through social media mindlessly while sitting down, in place of connecting with others face-to-face, all contribute to lousy mental health.

Too much sitting can cause psychological distress. A study of Australian government workers found that those who spent 6 or more hours sitting down in a typical workday scored higher on a test of psychological distress than those who were more active. 

Sitting can also lead to depression. An additional study evaluated approximately 9,000 women in their fifties. Among these women, those who spent 7 or more hours per day sitting were three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression compared to those who sat fewer than four hours. 

Researchers have also associated excessive sitting with reduced well-being overall. Data from a national wellness project in the UK found that, for both sexes, spending lots of time on the computer, long hours of TV watching, and total hours of sitting were associated with lower mental well-being.

I know sitting can seem nearly unavoidable in today’s day and age. Nonetheless, merely making a few adjustments in your daily routine could make all the difference in preventing a variety of chronic disorders, improving your mental health, and allowing you to live a longer, healthier life in the long run.

For a personalized plan for introducing more healthy movement into your lifestyle, schedule a consultation with me. 

For additional recipes, biohacking tips and lifestyle hacks -- check out my other blog on my coaching site www.cleancoachcarly.com! I post weekly about nutrition and lifestyle topics, all backed by science. Happy Reading!


Other interesting reads:

Sources

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005 
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-sitting-is-bad-for-you#calorie-burning 
  3. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M14-1651?articleid=2091327& 
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12468415/ 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419586/ 
  6. https://goop.com/wellness/fitness/how-to-counter-the-effects-of-sitting-all-day-long/ 
  7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201403/what-sitting-does-your-psyche 
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22450936/

Carly Neubert, BA, NC
Carly Neubert, BA, NC

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