Chuck, I heard recently that sitting for extending periods of time actually doubles our chances for heart disease. I’m a gamer who loves to lounge after studying with my college buddies. Tell me I don’t need to bail out of my beanbag while playing “World of Warcraft.” – “Lounging at Liberty University” in Virginia
Several months ago, I reported on the health benefits of standing up. But the issue bears repeating in light of further medical evidence I read last week.
While browsing a report from the Alliance for Natural Health, I learned about a critical study published by the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation that radically ramped up the benefits of standing by revealing the disheartening and detrimental nature of too much sitting (a 2009 Canadian study yielded the same results).
In particular, the AHA study looked at the effects of the chief of all sedentary activities: watching television.
Those who led the study stated, “We examined the associations of prolonged television viewing time with all-cause, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and non-CVD/noncancer mortality” in 8,800 people who were 25 or older.
The ANH summarized the results well: “Each extra hour of television watching (the ultimate sitting sedentary activity) per day was associated with an 18 percent increase in deaths from heart disease and an 11 percent increase in overall mortality. People who watched TV for at least four hours a day were 80 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who watched two hours or less, and 46 percent more likely to die of any cause.”
Those are alarming statistics and should make any inactive couch potato rise up!
The associated concerns lie with our levels of blood glucose, blood lipids and adiposity – the quality or state of being overweight or obese – when we are sedentary. The ANH explained that in short, sitting makes lipase lipoprotein (fat-processing) molecules slow down. On the other hand, “actively contracting the muscles produces a whole suite of substances that have a beneficial effect on how the body uses and stores sugars and fats. … The lipoprotein lipase enzyme grabs fat and cholesterol from the blood, burning the fat into energy while shifting the cholesterol from LDL (the bad kind) to HDL (the healthy kind).” (It appears from this study that even lying down is better than sitting.)
What’s additionally disturbing is that the AHA study’s conclusions stood (no pun intended), even regarding those adults who had balanced diets and met exercise guidelines. Not even vigorous exercise counteracted the health hazards of long periods of sitting, which, a 2006 University of Minnesota study concluded, increased by an average of 8 percent from 1980 to 2000, despite the fact that exercise patterns remained the same.
So the leaders of the AHA study recommended: “Although continued emphasis on current public health guidelines on the importance of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise should remain, our findings suggest that reducing time spent watching television (and possibly other prolonged sedentary behaviors) may also be of benefit in preventing CVD and premature death.”
Bottom line: Though the human body’s systems need rest, we weren’t designed to be sedentary. We are more like rivers than we are like ponds; still water builds up all forms of malaise.
If one thinks about the journey of humanity in just about any culture outside modernity, the two most dominant postures are lying down and standing up. Lengthy amounts of time sitting down are relatively new in the course of human history.
Hence, the recommendation of the AHA study is to return to our positional roots.
The hazards of sitting and health benefits of standing warrant our lifestyle changes. Looking at the issue of weight gain alone, which itself can lead to a host of disadvantages in life, a study from the University of North Carolina Wilmington found that within eight months of starting sedentary office work, people gained an average of 16 pounds. On the other hand, we burn 60 more calories an hour when standing versus sitting. That’s roughly 500 calories for every eight-hour workday.
So here are some recommendations from the AHA, Marc Hamilton – a physiologist and professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center – and me:
- If your physical condition prevents you from standing, check with your health practitioners regarding other alternatives to be active and aerobic.
- Make a resolution this year to stand more daily. Whether it be at peak energy periods or not, you should challenge yourself to stand while recreating or working. Reward yourself with short times of sitting.
- If your comfy desk chair or Barcalounger is too tempting, then remove it or replace it. Consider swapping your traditional desk with a waist-high standing one. And if finances are an issue, use your laptop on a counter, or build up the height of your work space with books (I even think restaurants and coffeehouses would do a service for the health of humanity if they offered a few more standing alternatives).
- Take breaks more. Get up and move around, if even for a short stretch. For example, take a drink of water down the corridor. I’m not trying to reduce productivity, but consider that a European Heart Journal study of 5,000 people found that those who took more breaks during the day were 1.6 inches thinner than those who did not.
- Redefine exercise as a lifestyle rather than just an activity. Redefine workout to include every portion of your day. Don’t just be fit; live fit.
- Always stand during certain activities – for example, when you talk on the phone. Redefine your phone ring; download a ring tone that reminds you to get off your derriere.
I don’t suppose many people listed standing as a New Year’s resolution, but it’s not too late to do so. It could save your life.