Do you consistently spend long periods of time sitting down? If so, you could be putting undue pressure on your body, which may result in chronic illness and ultimately, a premature death. When we sit for too long, we are said to be living a 'sedentary lifestyle' or a lifestyle with insufficient physical activity, and this can have a serious and detrimental impact on our overall health.
If you fall into this category, you're in good company. According to the World Health Organisation, up to 85% of the world's population does not get enough physical activity. This lack of physical activity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality!
Why Is Sitting Too Long So Bad for Us?
Evidence suggests that the average person in the UK is thought to spend over 7 hours per day just sitting. Think of all the times you sit during the day: when you commute by car, bus or train, when you're sitting watching television, doing homework or surfing the internet. Unsurprisingly, this increases to 10 hours or more per day as we get older!
Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. Sitting for long periods results in a slow metabolism, and this can affect the ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and metabolise fat. This leads to weaker muscles and bones.
Why Do We Sit for Longer?
Many people are sitting for longer periods of time now, than their forebears might have fifty or one hundred years ago. This is because we spend a great deal of time watching TV, using computers or phones, reading, doing homework, and travelling.
In addition, many of us have sedentary Jobs thanks to the growth of technology. More of us sit behind a desk than at any point in history. In fact, the number of sedentary jobs has increased 83% since 1950, while physically active jobs only amount to 25% of the workforce, that's 50% less than in 1950. We're also working longer hours than we did 20-30 years ago.
Diseases Associated with a Sedentary Lifestyle
Research suggests that a lack of physical activity is closely linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer for example. It can also exacerbate conditions such as anxiety and depression, and lead to weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Skeletal muscle mass is adversely affected by a lack of physical activity, leading to mobility problems as we get older.
How Much Exercise Should We Be Aiming For?
General advice recommends that we undertake 30 minutes of activity a day, but some experts claim this is not enough. They suggest aiming for 10,000 steps per day and a minimum of 150 minutes' exercise per week. Reducing the overall amount of time we're sitting is vitally important. Counteract periods of inactivity by moving more. One or two minutes of activity every 30 minutes is beneficial, because you will engage your muscles and bones and give bodily functions a boost.
Experts offer age-specific advice too. In countries such as Australia, the USA and Finland there are recommendations that children limit their screen time, to one or two hours a day for example, and even children under 5 should be encouraged to move more and spend less time strapped into the buggy or car seat. This should facilitate healthy patterns of behaviour for the future in theory.
Parents of children aged 5 to 18 years may find reducing sitting time a challenge, but you could negotiate screen time by encouraging children to 'earn' it by doing other chores or activities and ensuring that bedrooms are a TV- and computer-free zone.
Meanwhile adults should try to sit less, and therefore walk more, but also stand on the bus or train, take the stairs and escalators, and make time to stand and stretch and walk around every 30 minutes.
Advice for Those Who Work with Computers
Sitting curves, the spine and compresses the lungs, meaning that you won't be getting as much oxygen as you need which can affect focus and concentration. Unfortunately, most of us don't work in an environment that will provide us with standing desks to work from, so there are ways to improve matters.
Take walks as often as you can. Instead of emailing a colleague, go and see them. Walk around during your coffee break. Get outside and walk during your lunch break. You will feel sharper and more creative and therefore more productive, which your organisation should approve of!
Updated: November 14, 2019 CET