A Picture’s Worth a 1000 Words: Sitting is Killing You

I remember being scared of certain things when I was a kid – the dark, monsters, and clowns…but I did eventually get over those fears.  Now as an adult, there is one thing that really scares me.  The chair!  Sitting is killing us and as dramatic as that statement sounds, it is backed by a plethora of science and evidence.

Sitting is being described as the “new smoking” (Mayo Clinic) or the “smoking of our generation” (Harvard Business Review.) This infographic breaks down the data behind these statements with stats like: “sitting increases risk of death up to 40%,” “sitting makes us fat,” and “sitting wrecks your body.”

Want to know what happens when we sit all day?

  • Immediately after sitting the electrical activity in your muscles slows down and your calorie-burning rate drops to one calorie per minute…about a third of what it is when you are walking.  2-hours after you sit down the good cholesterol in your body drops about 20%.
  • After 2 weeks of sitting for more than six hours a day your body increases plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules), LDL cholesterol (a.k.a. bad cholesterol) and insulin resistance.  At this point your muscles aren’t taking in fat and your blood sugar levels rise, putting you at risk for weight gain.  At the 2-week mark your muscles begin to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption drops making stairs harder to climb and walks harder to take.
  • After 1 year of sitting for more than six hours a day fat accumulation is almost inevitable, along with loss of muscle mass and even bone density.
  • After 10-20 years of sitting more then six hours a day you lose about seven quality-adjusted life years (your healthy years,) increase your risk of dying of heart disease by 64% and your overall risk of prostate or breast cancer increases by 30%.

Despite the danger, we sit more than we ever have before (an incredible 9.3 hours a day) and we spend more time sitting, on average, than we do standing (7.7 hours.)

So what can be done to counteract our “chair-based lifestyle?” For starters, 30-minutes of exercise per day is critical. (Koko anyone?)  In addition these simple actions can offset the perils of sitting.

  • Stand up every hour.  Set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to get off your tush every 60-minutes.
  • Get a pedometer and track your steps.  Your goal is 10,000 a day.  A pedometer will clue you in on how “bad it really is” and provide you with a goal…both valuable when trying to change behavior.
  • Schedule “stand-up” meetings at work. Not only are you on your feet, but these meetings may have the added benefit of making gatherings shorter… everyone hates long meetings.
  • Hold “walking” meetings weekly.  You’d be amazed at how much more creative and clear minded you are while on the move, and there is a lot of research that says walking is good for the brain.  Added benefit: longer meetings = more miles walked.
  • When sitting, use a “ball chair.” Sometimes you have no choice.  Make the best of the situation by using a “chair” that forces you to engage more muscle while seated.
  • Invest in a “stand-up desk.” Once you’ve gotten use to standing, try a treadmill desk or balance board to increase the activity level.

We didn’t quite get to 1000 words this time around, but the picture is no less serious.  Sitting too often for too long is shortening our lives.  I don’t know about you, but I think living longer and healthier is worth standing up for.  I hope you’ll join me.

Michael Wood, CSCS
Chief Fitness Officer
Koko FitClub

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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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