Keeping your body in motion is more important than we realize. Health experts often recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, 75 minutes of medium to vigorous activity or 150 minutes of light activity a week. Many athletes achieve this and even more. We agonize over calories burned and steps taken, while forgetting to take into account one major silent killer: the health risks of sitting too much.
Think about it: how many hours a day do you spend sitting down? The human body hasn’t changed much over the years but the way we live definitely has — from an active nomadic lifestyle, to being agricultural, to sitting down 12 to 15 hours a day. This has quite a significant effect on our health. Scientific research has not found the exact mechanics of how this affects our body, but researchers have found significant correlations showing it does affect us.
Sitting for hours on end — in work, at school, during your daily commute and even hanging around at home — increases your risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and even an early death. Yikes.
The list of health risks is quite outstanding. Aside from the threat of diseases brought about by a sedentary lifestyle such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes, there are also more immediate effects. You probably feel this everyday: lower energy, muscle atrophy, reduced mobility in your joints and a saggy rear end.
One of the common complaints by people who spend most of their time sitting is that they have tight hips and backs. It also results in poor posture, which contributes to other health issues as well. Despite the myriad of problems it causes, there is a lot we can do to prevent it.
Sit Less, Stand More
This is your first instinct. If you are advised against sitting for hours on end, break them up by standing for a minute or two every 30 minutes. You can set a reminder on your phone for this. If it’s too often, then consider taking 15 minute standing breaks every hour or two.
It takes 21 days to form a habit, and the best time to start is now. Standing breaks are a great time to walk around, stretch a bit and give your eyes a break from the computer screen. Use your coffee or tea breaks to stand and get some walking into your day. If you’re ready, you can take it a step further by investing in a standing or walking desk.
Correct Your Posture
The way you sit has a significant impact. Hunching forward causes pain and puts extra stress on your neck and back. In fact, every inch you hang your head forward is thought to add at least 10 more pounds of pressure on your spine.
Wonder why you get tired even when you’re sitting? Having bad posture compresses your lungs and reduces their capacity — depleting you of energy. This applies whether you’re sitting or standing, so watch out for that too.
Movement is important. You don’t have to sit stiffly upright all the time. Shift your position or move your neck every 15 minutes or so, changing where you’re putting pressure on your body. There are also a number of tools you can use to improve your posture.
Just Ate? Move!
After every meal, your body experiences a spike in blood sugar. The effect of this is increased when you spend the hour or two after sitting down, resulting in quite the roller coaster.
On the contrary, if you spend even 15 minutes after a meal walking, the increase in your blood glucose is reduced by half. This is important because these roller coasters are the top predictors of type 2 diabetes. After a meal, walk around to clean up the table or do the dishes. It keeps your kitchen cleaner and your body healthier.
Aside from having exercise in your daily routine, adding periods of standing and walking can help cut down on the effects of sitting for hours on end. It’s not enough to be physically active. We should always stay aware of the little things we do which affect our health negatively.