Are you sitting down? Not for long after you read this. If you haven’t heard about it before, welcome to a relatively new affliction known as “sitting disease.” No, this is not some anti-exotic name given to a debilitating condition caused by a mosquito bite or too much lounging around in the sun; it’s about spending too much time . . . sitting, the physical results of which can be devastating.
If you’re waiting for the punch line, there is none. But there is a punch-to the-gut line, and here it is: many health care experts say that consistently sitting for hours at a time, such as at a desk or in front of the TV, can significantly increase the odds of heart disease or diabetes. A Mayo Clinic cardiologist has said that sitting for most of the day carries with it a risk that equates to smoking.
Maybe you should be sitting down. Among the research numbers cited by noted natural-health proponent Dr. Joseph Mercola is 90 percent—sitting for eight-plus hours a day is associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Dr. James A. Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic and author of the book “Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You,” says: “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with . . . obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
There’s more. The negative health effects of all that sitting around can’t be easily undone by exercise, even if regular, sustained of moderate intensity. Typically, primary-care physicians recommend to their adult patients that they get at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity a week, such as walking, jogging or bike riding. Will that offset sitting disease? Probably not, according to research that says sitting for more than six hours a day makes us 40 percent more likely to die 15 years earlier than someone who sits less than three hours a day. An increased risk of dementia also has been reported.
OK, so maybe those numbers are posing conclusions that don’t account for factors unrelated to desk chair or couch potato time, but it’s still enough of a concern to make anyone reconsider their sitting habits. Scientists looking into sitting disease still have a ways to go in explaining exactly what’s going on, but, according to Levine, whenever you stand up, within 90 seconds the “muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol are activated.”
So, for those of us who work desk jobs, such as writing blogs and books, or sit in commuter traffic for hours each week, what are we to do? And what about football Saturdays and Sundays, where tens of millions of Americans enjoy a steady diet of game after game after game, each lasting about three hours?
All is not lost. Here are some things we all can do to fulfill our job requirements AND still get our fill of football, fantasy and real:
- Stand up as much as possible. If working at a desk, get up and walk around for 10 minutes every hour. Also look into using an elevated desk or podium that allows you to stand and continue working for 15 or 30 minutes, or more, at a time.
- Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
- Get up and walk around during TV commercial breaks, even if just for two or three minutes at a time. With any luck, this becomes a habit.
- Walk laps with colleagues, weather permitting, to conduct meetings. If everyone else insists on sticking to the usual meeting room, stand up during the meeting. Maybe it will catch on.
- Get a fitness tracker that counts your daily steps There’s a good chance it incentivizes you to build up to the 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day – over and above any exercise regimen you might already be following -- recommended by experts for getting or staying healthy while staying off your posterior.