The Trouble with Sitting

Do you sit in an office chair or on your couch for more than six hours a day? Then here are some disturbing facts: Your risk of heart disease has increased by up to 64 percent. You’re shaving off seven years of quality life. You’re also more at risk for certain types of cancer. Simply put, sitting is killing you. That’s the bad news. The good news: It’s easy to counteract and prevent sedentary components that negatively affect your health.

Since childhood you’ve known that being a couch potato is bad. But why? Simply put, our bodies weren’t made to sit all day. Sitting for long periods of time, even with exercise, has a negative effect on our health. What’s worse, many of us sit up to 15 hours a day. That means some of us spend the bulk of our waking moments on the couch, in an office chair, or in a car.

An Estimated Timeline of the Effects of Sitting

Immediately After Sitting
Right after you sit down, the electrical activity in your muscles slows down and your calorie-burning rate drops to one calorie per minute. This is about a third of what it does if you’re walking. If you sit for a full 24-hour period, you experience a 40 percent reduction in glucose uptake in insulin, which can eventually cause type 2 diabetes.

After Two Weeks of Sitting for More Than Six Hours a Day
Within five days of changing to a sedentary lifestyle, your body increases plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules), LDL cholesterol (aka bad cholesterol), and insulin resistance. This means your muscles aren’t taking in fat and your blood sugar levels go up, putting you at risk for weight gain. After just two weeks your muscles start to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption drops. This makes stairs harder to climb and walks harder to take. Even if you were working out every day the deterioration starts the second you stop moving.

After One Year of Sitting More Than Six Hours a Day
After a year, the longer term effects of sitting can start to manifest subtly. According to this study by Nature, you might start to experience weight gain and high cholesterol. Studies in woman suggest you can lose up to 1 percent of bone mass a year by sitting for over six hours a day.

After 10-20 Years of Sitting More Than Six Hours a Day
Sitting for over six hours a day for a decade or two can cut away about seven quality adjusted life years (the kind you want). It increases your risk of dying of heart disease by 64 percent and your overall risk of prostate or breast cancer increases 30 percent.

Counteract the Consequences of Sitting
Fortunately, you only need to do two things to counter the effects of sitting all day:
Remember to stand once an hour.

Get 30 minutes of exercise per day.

An Australian study suggests short breaks from sitting once an hour can alleviate most of the problems described above. This isn’t about working out (which is positive in its own right but doesn’t counteract the effects of long periods of sitting). It’s about creating pockets of moderate activity throughout the day and giving your body a break from sitting.

Set an Hourly Standing Alarm to Remind You to Stand
We know that if you stand up for just one or two minutes every hour, it can reduce the negative effect of sitting all day. Technically, you don’t even have to move, the act of standing alone helps. When you’re in the moment and working hard, it’s difficult to remember. Consider enabling the hourly announcement in OS X as areminder. To set this, click Settings > Date & Time > Announce the time. Windows users can set up a similar hourly reminder as a task by clicking Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Task Scheduler.
If the alarm isn’t enough, you can download dedicated software to remind you. Windows users can use free programs like, Workrave or Breaker to set up automated alerts. For Macs, Time Out seems the best free option. These programs will remind you to stand and dim the desktop to force you out of your chair.

It’s up to you how you use these micro-breaks. You don’t even have to move if you don’t want to, but if you want to get a little activity in that minute, here’s a quick way to do it without leaving your desk area:

  • Stand up.
  • March in place for twenty seconds.
  • Reach down and try to touch your toes for twenty seconds.
  • Wander around and pick up or reorganize for the last twenty seconds (eventually your desk area may even be clean).

Other activities that can be completed each hour include:

  • 10 chair squats
  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 10 lunges
  • 10 push-ups/wall push-ups/countertop push-ups<
  • 30 sec plank
  • 20 crunches/sit-ups
  • 10 side bends
  • 10 chair dips
  • 10 calf raises

Performing just one of these exercises each hour can counter the consequences of sitting all day and add to your overall health greatly. It’s important to note that these breaks every hour do not take place of 30 minutes of exercise. A minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise is recommended in conjunction with the hourly breaks for maximum weight loss and general health benefits.

Works Cited
Klosowski, T. (2012, January 26). How Sitting All Day Is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It. Retrieved from Lifehacker.com: http://lifehacker.com/5879536/how-sitting-all-day-is-damaging-your-body-and-how-you-can-counteract-it