The Environmental Toxin That Is Silently Killing You

sitting bad

We all know smoking’s bad for you, right?

What if I told you that you are touching something — RIGHT NOW — that is worse for your health than smoking.

No, it’s not your laptop. It’s not your smartphone.

It’s not even pollution, or pesticides, or BPA.

I’m not talking about any of those.

It’s something that the average American touches — on average — for 13 hours every day.

Something that is killing you.

Something that is — by some estimates — twice as dangerous as smoking.

I’m talking about the chair you’re sitting in right now.

Now don’t worry, there isn’t a poisonous snake or bomb or shark hidden in your chair.

And it’s not just the chair’s fault.

Your car and your couch are in on the plot.

Anytime you are sitting — being physically inactive — your body is slowly breaking down.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks physical inactivity as the fourth biggest preventable killer worldwide, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths annually.

Think about your day.

Now you might be saying to yourself “I don’t sit that much, it can’t be that bad!”

But think about your day.

You wake up, head to the kitchen, and sit down for your breakfast. (30 minutes)

After getting ready, you sit in your car to drive to work. (45 minutes)

At work, you sit at your desk. (8 hours)

After work, you sit in your car to drive home. (another 45 minutes)

At home, you sit for dinner (30 minutes) and then fire up Netflix for your favorite shows or a movie (2 hours.)

Add it all up and you’re already at 12 hours, and you’re better than average!

What about exercise?

You may be thinking that if you work out 3-4 times per week, you’re protected.

First, good for you! Regularly exercising has a host of benefits for your overall health, your brain, and your body.

But do the math.

60 minutes of exercise done three times per week is just 3 hours of movement a week. Compare that with over 90 hours of sitting per week for the average American.

According to a recent meta-analysis of 47 studies, researchers recently concluded that long periods of daily sitting are linked to significantly higher odds of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dying, even if you exercise regularly (although the numbers are even worse if you don’t exercise at all!)

Think of it as 3 steps forward (exercise) but 2 steps back (sitting.)

So what’s actually so bad about sitting?

First, our bodies are made to move.

They’re a complex combination of different overlapping systems that work together like an expensive Swiss watch. Even the simple act of walking improves hip flexibility, increases bone density, and activates the lymph system — your body’s garbage system — to flush toxins out more quickly. The deeper breathing you do when walking or exercising actually massages the soft tissue of your spine, keeping it healthier and more resilient.

There are a whole host of systems in your body that require regular movement in order to function the way they’re intended to, and sitting interrupts these processes or forces them to function much less efficiently.

Second, your body adapts to the positions it’s in most often.

When you sit, your upper spine curves forward into flexion and your head leans out, which leads to neck pain and tight shoulders.

Your glutes — the big muscles in your butt — start to lose sensation because they’re not needed, leading to loss of control of your lower spine and back pain.

Your diaphragm — the muscles that control your breathing — are compressed, making it harder for you to get a good deep breath and enough oxygen.

And that’s just a quick list. While there is nothing wrong with sitting in small doses, when done for 12+ hours a day it creates a toxic environment that does small amounts of damage that compound over time.

That toxic environment slowly but surely robs you of your quality of life, leading to pain, injury, and a host of preventable but life-threatening conditions — just as if you were eating tiny doses of poison ever day.

For a while, your body can adapt. But over time, the damage is done.

What can I do?

Luckily the prescription is simple. Not necessarily easy to follow, but simple.

Sit less. Move more.

You probably can’t eliminate your commute and standing up while eating isn’t socially acceptable in most scenarios, but you can change your environment in a big way with just a few tweaks.

Listen to your mother. When you do sit, sit up straight. No slouching! Keep your spine straight and head balanced over your body so you don’t fall into any over-exaggerated sitting positions.
Take movement breaks. Even if your job requires you to be at a desk all day, you can still get up every so often and take a walk around the office. The Pomodoro Technique, where you work hard for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break (or 25 mins with a 5 minute break) lends itself perfectly for a short walk and stretch. Instead of eating lunch at your desk or a sit-down restaurant, grab a quick bite and spend some time walking around the parking lot or up and down the stairs in your building.
Consider a standing desk. While it takes some getting used to, switching to a standing desk at your workspace (or a hybrid stand-sit desk) can immediately turn those 8 hours of sitting into 8 hours of standing. You’ll also be more likely to move around and fidget when standing for that long, so you’ll be burning extra calories while getting the benefits of not sitting.
Supercharge your TV/internet/reading time. Instead of just sitting passively, use every commercial break (or chapter break) to get up and move around. Or invest in a foam roller and watch TV from the floor while stretching and rolling.

It’s never too late to start

Even if you’re in your 40s, 50s or beyond and already suffering from low back pain, injuries or more serious symptoms of physical inactivity and sitting, don’t worry.

No matter how old you are, your body can still adapt.

Pick one place where you can replace sitting with standing. Take a mid-morning movement break. Go for a walk at lunch. Stretch during Seinfeld.

Start small, and build from there.

Little by little, sitting will kill you.

But little by little, movement will make you better.

Josh Roman
VP of Product & Technology, Koko FitClub

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