If you had to, could you limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 ½ hours a day? That is the (seemingly) silly question posed by Dr. Mike Evans, physician, researcher, and designer of the video 23 and ½ Hours. With the average adult in the U.S. watching over five hours of television a day and jobs that are increasingly sedentary, research on the dangers of sitting is mounting.
Not only does too much sitting reduce life expectancy, but it also reduces the quality of life. When compared with people who sat in front of a screen for two hours or less daily, those who watched TV or worked on a computer for four or more hours daily had an almost 50% increase of death and a nearly 125% increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This could be due to the fact that prolonged sitting allows blood to move sluggishly and fat to form around major arteries.
Too much sitting can also activate the pancreas because muscles that are at prolonged rest do not efficiently use insulin. To compensate, the pancreas produces insulin at an elevated rate, which can lead to diabetes. This increased insulin production due to sitting has also been linked to increased rates of colon and endometrial cancer.
These are some internal issues that can be caused by sitting, but what about external factors issues? Sitting for too long can lead to muscle degeneration of the muscles in the abdomen and spine. Because these two sets of muscles are responsible for holding the body in correct posture, those who sit for prolonged periods of time tend to have poor posture that can become permanent over time.
In addition to cardiovascular and pancreatic issues and loss of muscle support, prolonged sitting causes serious brain fog. Our brains require fresh blood and oxygen to stay sharp, and sitting for hours on end slows the production of both. This is why a quick stretch or a spin around the office seems to refresh and renew us when our ideas are blocked. We are actually opening up the vessels in the brain and helping it breathe with a fresh dose of blood and oxygen, simply by standing up!
Too much sitting also makes us fat, and it’s not just because we aren’t exercising as much as we should be. When we sit for long periods of time, the enzyme lipoprotein lipase is not as active. This is an enzyme that helps us burn fat, so the less active the enzyme, the less fat we burn.
It isn’t that we need to avoid sitting at all costs. The majority of adults in the U.S. have jobs, commutes, and lifestyles that have them sitting for the majority of the day. Even if we get the recommended daily allowance of exercise, sitting for four hours or more at a stretch can still be enough to cause some of the conditions mentioned above. So what are some of the ways we can ameliorate the effects of too much sitting while still being productive adults?
Recognize that sitting is not horrible
If you are sitting and socializing with friends and family, this is an important part of your mental and emotional health, which corresponds with physical health. Resting when you need rest is also an important function of sitting. So sit when you need to!
You don’t need to walk around the block, jog a mile, or run in place for 15 minutes to reap the benefits of not sitting. Standing up for a period of time while you work, doing a few simple stretches at your desk, or simply raising your arms above your head with a few deep breaths can help combat the effects of sitting too much. Try to stand and stretch or move a bit every 30 minutes.
Stand up regularly in your home
Your mom may have told you that it wasn’t a good idea to eat standing up, but sometimes taking your morning cup of coffee at the kitchen window instead of the table is a good thing. After a long sleep, this simple act of being upright begins to move oxygen and blood through your body, energizing you for the day and waking your body up in general.
Make lifestyle changes
Instead of letting the dog out in the back yard, take him for a walk. Play with your kids after school for 30 minutes before homework starts. Take standing breaks at meetings instead of staying in your chair. Park far away from the door and walk, or take the stairs. All of these little steps help break the cycle of a sedentary lifestyle.
Make changes at work
Niels Diffrient is a legendary industrial designer who has re-designed the chair by taking into account the needs of the human body. He considered such things as opening up the joints that connects the legs to the torso to allow blood flow. Diffrient created a chair that takes the way the body works into consideration, and this type of thinking should inform your work at the office. If standing is better than sitting, consider eliminating the chairs in your office in favor of a standing desk. That way if you want to sit, you will need to walk to a location with chairs.
Take short walking breaks
If you can, even a five minute break for walking has profound effects on your health. Research has found that just three slow walks can reverse the damage done to the arteries in the legs by effectively clearing out and pushing through blood that has pooled in the legs. If you can, take a short break and stroll through the office. Can you go talk to a colleague instead of shooting them an email? Can you visit the water cooler instead of relying on an in-office ‘fridge? Just 15 minutes is all you need to reap the benefits of a three-hour session of sitting.
In 23 ½ Hours, Dr. Mike Evans talks about the benefits of not sitting, calling it a simple “treatment” that is affordable to all. Some of the benefits of walking for one hour, three times a week are:
- For knee arthritis: Reduced pain and disability by 47%
- For dementia/Alzheimer’s: Reduced progression by 50%
- For diabetes: Reduced progression by 58%
This “medicine” is the best thing you can do for your health. Couple a 30-minute daily walking session with regular standing breaks, and you will increase your quality of life, mental health, and physical well-being. You extend your life expectancy, protect your heart, and develop better posture and stronger muscles in your entire body.
So how about it? Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to 23 ½ hours a day?
Image by Vinoth Chandar via Flickr