If orange is the new black, then sitting is the new sugar. Like sugar, sitting can introduce a whole host of health conditions into our bodies that creep up without us even realizing they're happening. Here are seven ways sitting is just as bad — if not worse — than sugar, and how to heal yourself.
1. Sitting can increase mortality rates.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who sat for more than six hours a day died earlier than their counterparts who sat less than three hours a day. Over the course of a 14-year follow up, they found that the mortality rates were significantly higher for the chronic sitters. The predominant associations were strongest for cardiovascular disease mortality.
2. Sitting increases obesity.
Similar to eating excess amounts of sugar, sitting leads to obesity. James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, is a leader of an emerging field of "inactivity studies." Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.
3. Prolonged sitting leads to type 2 diabetes.
Sitting for long periods of time affects blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. A large proportion of people who sit for extended periods are obese and are at risk for Type 2 diabetes. The correlation between sedentary lifestyles and obesity are well documented. Compounding the situation is the additional issue of poor nutrition, including added sugars, is a clear predictor of diabetes.
4. Muscle atrophy is common with frequent sitting.
Muscle activity helps break down fats and sugars in the body, but sitting brings this metabolic function to a standstill. That's why after sitting for long periods we feel stiff, while movement keeps your muscles pliable. Just by standing, the process starts back up again. Simply standing at your desk to read or answer the phone is enough to restart the process.
5. Sitting affects the regulation of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity.
A study published in The Journal of Physiology indicates that inactivity suppresses LPL activity, an enzyme that breaks down fat to use it as energy, and isn't as easily recoverable by just standing. Movement throughout the day is necessary to keep this activity going.
6. Sitting is associated with a higher risk of depression.
Sitting reduces circulation and depresses "feel good" hormones like serotonin. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the women who sat for seven or more hours a day were more likely to have depressive symptoms than women who sat for less than four hours a day. The unsurprising conclusion of the study indicates that increasing physical activity can alleviate current depression symptoms and prevent future symptoms in mid-aged women. Although this study focused solely on women, I'd infer that this extends to everyone.
7. Sitting increases the chances of developing cancer.
"Physical inactivity has been linked with diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, but it can also increase the risk of certain cancers," says a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The researchers found a statistically significantly higher risk for three types of cancer (colon, endometrial, lung) in patients who sat for long periods of time, with the risks increasing with each additional hour of inactivity.
We already know that sugar is addictive, and though I'm not saying sitting is also addictive, I do believe it's habitual. The more we sit, the more likely we are to continue sitting. Once we give in to inactivity, inertia becomes the norm ... there's a natural tendency to keep doing what we're doing.
So what do we do about it? Get up. Go outside. It sounds simple, but so many of us have jobs that require long periods of sitting and moving around regularly if often an afterthought. But you have to be proactive and redefine what movement means for you. For me, I stand when I have to read a long document or email at my desk, moving my feet back and forth to get the blood flowing. This requires no thinking, but I'm sure it's benefits will pay dividends.
With spring around the corner, think about getting outside as much as you can. Whether you decide to plant a garden, take a daily walk or start a running habit, make a change. If you've been sedentary all winter, take it easy, start slowly and build up your strength and endurance. Just start moving!