As you sit here and read this article, can you think of how often you sit during your day? Physical inactivity can be just as deadly as smoking, according to recent studies. Your body, even if you exercise, can suffer from a sedentary lifestyle. Americans spend nine to ten hours sitting each day!
Sitting at your desk working, browsing your phone, reading articles like this one, and sitting in front of the television at night can have many adverse effects on your body composition and your health.
It might seem like something you can dismiss just because everyone else is sitting all day too, but be careful. People who sit all day and don't take care of their bodies have been shown to be at risk, and without making changes, negative changes in body composition can have a huge impact on your health down the road.
But don't worry, it's not all doom-and-gloom: we'll give you a bunch of ideas of how you can be more active during the day at the end!
#1: Insulin Resistance
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death among Americans. Those who sit for extended periods of time, don’t exercise, and don’t take care of their nutrition can experience insulin resistance, which happens when insulin isn’t able to carry excess blood sugar out of your blood and into your muscles. When insulin resistance because significant, that’s type-2 diabetes.
One study of 3,757 women found that women who sat for eight hours a day had a 56 percent higher chance of developing diabetes. Diabetics tend to have more fat within their bodies, including inside their muscles and particularly more internal visceral fat, which can further encourage insulin resistance and keep them from being healthy.
To top it off, those diagnosed with diabetes experience a quicker loss of muscle mass than those growing older without diabetes, and that loss of muscle further worsens your body composition.
#2: Burning body fat is slowed down dramatically
Enzymes that burn body fat decrease by 90% when sitting for an hour or longer. The enzyme involved with body fat burning is called lipoprotein lipase, or LPL. LPL’s role is to produce good cholesterol, or HDL, which helps with triglyceride levels.
In a 2003 animal study, rodents were forced to stay lying down for most of the day - like many Americans - and the researchers found that the LPL levels in their leg muscles decreased immensely. When they stood up, the enzyme was ten times more active! If the rats exercised, LPL was not even affected.
Although this hasn't been directly shown in humans yet, the impact of sitting throughout most of your daily life has been highlighted in resent studies.
In 2009, over 17,000 Canadians participated in a study about sitting and mortality, and unfortunately, no matter how old they were, how obese or skinny they were, or even if they exercised, the more time they spent sitting, the earlier they died. Recent studies, however, are finding some positive results - just one hour of physical activity can potentially offset the 8-hour sitting marathon many people perform in their offices.
#3: Muscles become weaker
When you sit, your gluteal muscles do absolutely no work; neither do your abdominal muscles and legs. When you stand, abdominal muscles, leg muscles, and gluteal muscles tighten.
When your muscles do nothing over and over again for extended periods of time, they can degenerate. If you sit for a long time, your hips may become weak and tight. The elderly who are not active can start to have falling episodes due to weak muscles.
Furthermore, because the size of your metabolism is linked with your body composition - more muscle creating a larger metabolism and more calories needed - any muscle loss can end up leading to fat gain if diet remains consistent. This is especially critical for people who sit all day because the part of their daily caloric burn associated with their muscle mass - their Basal Metabolic Rate - makes up the bulk of their total metabolism.
Less muscle, less calories needed, and greater chance for fat gain.
#4: Slowed Circulation
Not only is the blood flow to your brain slower, but the blood flow to your legs also becomes sluggish. Hanging your legs dependently puts them at a risk of blood clots with decreased circulation.
Standing has many benefits including an increase in energy, burns more calories, increases muscle tone, improves posture, and increases metabolism. Sitting slows the circulation, but one study showed a profound reduction in the vascular flow after sitting for three hours. Those who got up to walk around for two minutes, every hour, increased their lifespan by 33 percent.
#5: Bones Become Brittle
Like muscles, bones are strong when they are used. Engaging in walking and movement which includes weight-bearing can increase the durability of bones. Long term sitting and inactivity can lead to weak bones and possibly osteoporosis over time.
Now that your day has been ruined because you are cursed with a desk job that lasts many hours, how can you make yourself more active, even at work? You have to become creative. Some tips are included below to assist in changing the way you work because it is critical to your health.
Transportation - Do you drive to work? If so, park as far away as possible to get in extra steps throughout the day. If you can, bike or walk to the office. Take the steps up to your office if you are not on the first floor. If you can work from home, work from your home office. When at home, get up, do some walking, and even walk to the library to do more work. Think about your day before it starts to get those extra steps in each and every day.
Layout makeover - Have you taken a look at your office? Sometimes moving your office objects may make it easier for you to get your steps in. Take a look, is your printer close to your computer? Try to move it across the room to make yourself get up and move. Most of us live with our cell phones very close to us. Move your cell phone's charger by the printer; it will help you get up to move and keep you less distracted. Make coffee in your break room, come back and do some work, and get up again to get your coffee. Anything to get yourself moving counts towards your health.
Change up the way you sit - If you are allowed, sit on an exercise ball at your desk for short periods, or take it a step further and try a standing desk. There are unique ways of moving at work nowadays with standing desks, treadmill desks, and even bicycle desks. Imagine getting through one of your long meetings with an hour long bike ride, instead of a large latte.
If none of these are viable options, or if an exercise ball isn’t your thing, there are exercises you can do in your desk chair that engage your the muscles of your core.
Trade out your comfy chair - If you are not allowed to use a ball or cool new desk, try just an old fashioned wooden, uncomfortable chair. It will make you sit up straight if you must remain sitting, attempt good posture.
Alarm clock - Set a timer every hour for two minutes of constant movement. Try to keep moving with different exercises, sometimes called deskercises, stretches, or take a lap or two around the building.
Step Tracker - Motivate yourself by purchasing a step tracker. It is an eye opener to many individuals to see how much you are sitting around. Many trackers you can wear as a bracelet and challenge friends to different goals.
Now It's Your Turn: Be a Role Model
With all the technology available, kids are sitting now more than ever. Decreased activity throughout their lives will compromise their body composition and their health as they age. Limit their screen time, and involve them in sports. Give them "active" missions like treasure hunts. Be an example and stay away from screen time as much as you want your kids off it.
Think about your job, your life, and your sedentary lifestyle. Do you fit into the pocket of Americans that are sitting more during their day than standing? Take action to help prevent the adverse health outcomes from your lifestyle. Humans were not designed to sit, and now we know why.
So: now that you're at the bottom, close the tab, get out of the chair, and go walk! Your body with thank you for it.