The Latest Health Risk That Is Bigger Than Smoking

desk reaper

You’re well into the new year and super proud of the progress you’re making. You’ve hit the gym a couple times a week consistently, tried to get in a healthy mix of cardio, strength, core, and flexibility work. You’re eating better and feeling great. While each of these new habits is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and will certainly help you reach your health and fitness goals, there’s still one more thing you need to do: STAND UP!

Did you know one hour of exercise a day won’t put a dent in the negative side effects of too much sitting? Depressing, I know—but stick with me. It’s a reality that has to be contested for our overall health.

A Sitting Culture

As we’ve advanced as a society, we’ve become increasingly sedentary. A 2008 Vanderbilt University Study of 6,300 people published in the American Journal of Epidemiology estimated that an average American spends 58% of waking time (7.7 hours a day) in sedentary behaviors such as sitting. Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk, has found that “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Yikes.

Researchers have been working for years to document the negative effects sitting has on the body. There’s evidence that sitting increases the risk of developing various types of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It also increases your risk of obesity, can decrease your mobility, and simultaneously interferes with the enzyme that breaks down fat (lipoprotein lipase), which can lead to fat being stored instead of utilized. Oh, and let’s not forget, sedentary behavior is associated with a higher risk of developing depression. Scared sit-less, yet? There’s more …

The Turning Point

What’s worse is we used to believe that getting a solid workout in could offset all the time we spend sitting at our desks hammering out emails, in our chairs for meetings, in our cars traveling from place to place, on our couch watching TV, and even at the dinner table for our meals. But sadly it doesn’t work that way. Per a 2010 American Cancer Research study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that followed 123,216 individuals from 1993-2006, women who were inactive (sitting more than 6 hours a day) were 94% more likely to die during the same time period as women who sat less than 3 hours a day. And men? 48% more likely to die. But more importantly, the findings were independent of physical activity levels. In other words, the effects of sitting were just as alarming even if they exercised regularly!

Hopefully you are now sufficiently motivated to GET UP! The cause is not lost. Here are three steps to sit less, move more, and ensure your body can keep moving for years to come.

How to Sit Less

1. Establish Awareness

Become aware of how long you’ve been seated by setting a timer that reminds you to move. The Apple Watch has a Time to Stand Notification that reminds you to move if you haven’t over the last hour. But if you don’t have a watch, simply set a timer and when it goes off, move around. General step counters are also nice, to encourage movement and daily accountability—just make sure to spread out those steps throughout your day.

2. Move More Often

The answer isn’t just standing instead of sitting (so no, you can’t just ditch your office chair for a standing desk and call it good). You actually need to move. If you have a more traditional office job, here are a few ideas for the next time you get nudged to stand while at work. If your job already has you upright and you don’t have a traditional office set-up, make sure you walk (even march in place or take small steps side-to-side), squat, bend forward at the waist or side to side, and twist whenever you can. The secret is to change positions as often as you can.

3. Offset The Sitting Slump

Even if you can accomplish #1 and #2, working a desk job, driving around town, or even sitting on a plane for too long can wreak havoc on your body. Adding functional training to your weekly exercise routine is the best way to ensure muscles that are shortened, tight, and weak from sitting having the opportunity to get back in working order! There are also some stretches and exercises you can do while at work, which we highlighted last week.

Of course, we’re not saying that all your hard work in the gym is useless. Working your body from head to toe, strengthening the heart, and increasing your mobility will form the foundation of your fitness journey. But bringing awareness to what happens the other hours and days that you aren’t in the gym will also play a big part in your longevity and vitality!

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is a fitness business and programming consultant who has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, and BOSU® over the last 20 years. As an experienced educator and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable, a member of the ACE Board of Directors, is the owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool, and Balletone®.