Don’t Just Sit There

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

I had no idea.

Of course I know that it’s good to be active and that living a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy. But I had no idea that sitting (yes, plain old sitting: in a chair, in a car, at a desk, in front of the TV and so on) is incredibly bad for your health.

Modern humans spend more time sitting than sleeping, which is so different from our ancestors of even a hundred years ago. And our bodies weren’t designed for it.

In his book, Eat Move Sleep, author Tom Rath makes a strong case for sitting as little as possible, even going so far as to say that “Sitting more than 6 hours a day greatly increases your risk of an early death.” That’s a pretty bold statement. Let’s see some facts to back it up.

The minute you sit down:

    • electrical activity in your leg muscles stops
    • calorie burning is reduced to one calorie per minute
    • enzyme production drops by 90% (Enzymes are vastly important as they facilitate chemical reactions within cells.)

But wait–there’s more!

After two hours of sitting, good cholesterol is reduced by 20%.

Sitting for extended periods causes spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which over time can lead to diabetes. (However, just 2 minutes of walking every 20 minutes is enough to counteract this effect.)

Research has shown that when prolonged pressure is applied to specific areas of the body, the body produces 50% more fat in that area. It’s no surprise then, that people who spend a lot of time sitting develop larger bottoms.

Even people who spend an hour exercising each day put their health at risk if they sit for prolonged periods.

Sitting in conjunction with TV viewing presents additional health risks. Research shows that people who spend more than 4 hours a day watching TV are over twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who spend less than 2 hours watching TV.

So what’s the solution?

Here are some suggestions:

    • Stand up and move as often as possible—preferably every 20 minutes. Stretch, walk or stand whenever you can. Consider setting a timer on your phone to remind you.
    • Do some of your work while standing. New sit/stand workstations are available that can be raised and lowered to give you work height flexibility.
    • Stand while talking on the phone.
    • Be creative. Find reasons to get up and walk somewhere. Spread errands and tasks out over the day instead of getting them all done at once.
    • Drink more water! It’s good for you and will prompt you to get up and walk more often—to the water fountain and the rest room.
    • Wear a Fitbit or other movement measuring device. Studies show that people who measure how much they move end up moving more—about 27% more.
    • Limit TV time. When you do watch TV, use commercials as a cue to get up and move. Use this break to stretch, put something away in another part of the house, or (if the commercial is set to good music) dance!
    • Stand and do an easy task—like folding laundry— while watching TV.
    • If you have a treadmill or stationary bike, exercise while you watch TV.

I’ve already taken some of this advice to heart. While writing this article I took more breaks than I normally would.  I went up and down the basement steps several times to throw clothes in the washer and dryer. I took a quick walk to the library to return a book and another quick walk to buy some milk. (If you don’t live in a city and/or work from home, you can find other excuses to get up and out: like walking a dog, putting something in the mailbox, making a coffee run for your coworkers, etc.) All of those were things that could have waited until tomorrow, but I used them as an excuse to be more active—today.


Tom Rath, Eat Move Sleep, Missionday, 2013

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