Weight Loss

How Much Sitting Is Too Much?

A study from the American Cancer Society finds a link between long periods of leisure time sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes of death. As technology has advanced during the last few decades, sitting time has increased. One Australian study estimated that 90% of non-work time was spent sitting, and more than half of that sitting time was spent on the computer or watching TV.  Add to this a sedentary job sitting at a desk for several hours a day and you have a recipe for disaster.

When we sit, we use less energy than it takes to stand or move. According to the Mayo Clinic research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. There’s even evidence that prolonged periods of sitting increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Sitting for long periods of time burns fewer calories and can lead to weight gain.  Compared to sitting, an afternoon of just standing up at work can burn an extra 174 calories by increasing metabolism and the number of muscular contractions that occur throughout the day. Busy muscles release chemicals that can reduce bad cholesterol and burn blood sugar for fuel, which helps to keep insulin levels steady. An NIH study is the first study to provide proof that avoiding sedentary behavior at work could lead to weight loss and reduced risk of cardio metabolic diseases.

Any extended sitting, such as at a desk, behind a wheel, or in front of a screen, can be harmful. An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying, similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. But analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day can counter the effects of too much sitting.

The American Heart Association encourages us to sit less, move more. By now, we all know that regular exercise is good for us. The United States National Exercise Guidelines, which are based on a wealth of scientific evidence, recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week in order to lengthen our life spans and reduce our risks of a variety of diseases. In practice, this recommendation translates into 30 minutes almost daily of exercise that should be brisk enough to raise our heart rates and make us gasp a bit for breath. It is also recommended that people participate in muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.

We’ve all heard the buzz about walking 10,000 steps, but where did it come from?

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity doesn’t specifically recommend 10,000 steps. But, adults aiming for that goal of 150 minutes a week typically walk around 7,500 steps a day. From that standpoint, 10,000 steps represents that highest level in most adults. This study found that postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland, who walked on average 15,000 steps a day had fewer risk factors for heart disease than colleagues who sat throughout the day. Whether you’re walking 8,000 or 13,000 steps daily, the key is to get moving.

Exercising 30 minutes a day leaves us plenty of time for other activities, the primary one, apart from sleeping, tends to be sitting at a computer or watching TV. A typical office worker can easily log more than 10 or 11 hours a day in a chair, according to studies of how we spend our time. They have shown shocking results – as total sedentary time increased, so did early death by any cause. And the same was true for longer sitting stretches. Those who frequently sat in stretches less than 30 minutes had a 55% lower risk of death compared to people who  sat for more than 30 minutes.  Those who frequently sat for more than 90 minutes at a stretch had a nearly 200% greater risk of death than those who sat less than 90 minutes at one time.  Those who sat for more than 13 hours per day had a 200% greater risk of death compared to those who sat for less than 11 hours per day (an average office workers day). As a result, the Annals of Internal Medicine recommends that for every 30 minutes of consecutive sitting, stand up and move or walk for five minutes at brisk pace to lower your risk back to baseline.

Simple tips on getting more active include:

  • Standing and folding laundry while watching TV.
  • Doing a few simple exercises or stretches while you watch.
  • Getting up and doing something instead of skipping through TV commercial breaks.
  • Taking short breaks at work to walk around your office building, walk in place, stretch.
  • Walking up the escalator or stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  • Using the farthest bathroom from your office.
  • Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes, even if it’s just to stand for a few minutes.
  • Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
  • If you work at a desk, try a standing desk, or improvise with a high table or counter.
  • Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
  • At home, do work, read, or watch TV while on an exercise machine.

The impact of movement, any movement, can be profound. For starters, you’ll burn more calories which can lead to weight loss and increased energy. Physical activity helps maintain muscle tone and improves both mobility and mental well-being, especially as we age. But now we know that even just standing can lead to weight loss and a longer life with better health. Couch potatoes rise up, literally! This one change can have a major impact on your life.

-Dr. Courtney

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