Dangers of Prolonged Sitting
Are you sitting down for this? It turns out that sitting may be shortening your life.
Whether you sit down to work, relax or as a result of your physical health or status, many recent research studies suggest that the ill effects of being sedentary, specifically of prolonged sitting, cannot be offset by blocks of physical activity or exercise. Too much sitting is distinct from too little exercise. Being healthy is not just about increasing physical activity, but also about decreasing inactivity.
So what’s so bad about sitting? In addition to being shown to shorten lives by approximately two years and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, prolonged sitting is associated with negative consequences related to the body’s blood sugar, the “healthy” cholesterol (HDL), metabolism, mental health, and muscle weakness. Specifically, one study found that sitting for more than three hours per day and watching TV for more than two hours per day may contribute to the development of chronic diseases.2 Another study found that cancer was associated with those employed in sedentary jobs, and this association was independent of recreational physical activity and was observed even among the most recreationally active participants. 3
Fortunately, no matter the reason for a sedentary lifestyle, the ills of extended sitting can be counteracted by adding in more movement throughout the day. Always stand when you can. If you find yourself spending too much leisure time sitting, explore ways to get off the couch while watching television. If you work at a computer or a seated job, take opportunities to stand. Pace or stand while on a call, and walk to a colleague’s office on occasion instead of emailing or calling. Use your lunch time for physical activity. For those recovering from illness or injury, ensure that you follow your health care provider’s recommendations and that you are provided with activities to assist you with safely reducing sedentary time.
The dangers associated with prolonged sitting continue into late adulthood, and we must keep performing small-impact movements to ward off the hazards of remaining seated. It is important to learn age-appropriate ways to stay active throughout the day. We know it can be a challenge to keep up the same level of activity as we get older, which is one reason RehabCare developed the Smart Moves wellness program to empower older adults to incorporate as much physical movement as possible into their daily lives.
Mary Moretti, DPT, PT, is RehabCare’s Director of Clinical Operations and supports the development of clinical programming, protocols and evidence-based practice across all of RehabCare’s clinical settings. Mary also oversees Smart Moves, RehabCare’s wellness program.
- Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):998-1005. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181930355. Accessed on May 29, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19346988 .
- Katzmarzyk PT, Lee IM. Sedentary behaviour and life expectancy in the USA: a cause-deleted life table analysis. BMJ Open 2012;2:e000828. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000828. Accessed on May 29, 2013 from http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/4/e000828.full
- Boyle T, Fritschi L, Heyworth J, Bull F. Long-term sedentary work and the risk of subsite-specific colorectal cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 2011:173(10):1183-1191.