Currently, you’re probably sitting down reading this article — certainly nothing out of the ordinary. Many modern-day tasks require more analytical prowess than physical exertion. You sit while you sort out your monthly bills, you sit to eat dinner, and unless you live within a few blocks, you sit during your commute to work, where you sit at your desk to complete the day’s work. While there is nothing wrong with sitting for short periods of time, the sedentary lifestyle humans have come to adopt has devastating impacts on our health.
But how bad can a sedentary lifestyle truly be?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), inactivity accounts for approximately two million deaths per year, prompting WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle is among the top 10 causes of death and disability. Besides increasing all causes of mortality, a sedentary lifestyle can double the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, lipid disorders and osteoporosis.1 It can even be attributed to several behavioral disorders, including depression and anxiety.
There are several factors that attribute to the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Most obvious is the fact that the less you move, the fewer calories you burn, increasing the likelihood of weight gain. Your muscle strength and endurance also suffer as your muscles are not getting the exercise they require. Even your bones can get weaker and lose mineral content, increasing the risk of fracture.3
There are a multitude of lesser known risks as well. Prolonged sitting can negatively affect your metabolism, making it more difficult for the body to break down fats and sugars and hinder your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease and infection.3 Furthermore, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with more inflammation, poor blood circulation and hormonal imbalance.3 All of these factors combine to form a genuine risk of several chronic diseases and, oftentimes, premature death.
In 2005, James A. Levine, MD, PhD, an obesity specialist at Mayo Clinic, published a study analyzing the role of posture allocation in human obesity. While tracking the body posture and movements of 10 lean and 10 obese sedentary volunteers, Dr. Levine discovered the obese subjects remained seated for an average of two hours more per day than the lean individuals.2 He concluded that by simply taking two more hours a day to move about and perform routine activities, the obese individuals could burn an additional 350 calories per day.2
While sitting for a few minutes is a good way to unload stress and recuperate strength, there is no doubt that prolonged sitting wreaks havoc on the body. But with sedentary jobs rapidly trending upward, what is one to do?
While at work, it is important to get up and move about at least once an hour. Standing, treadmill and bicycle desks are also a good way to combat the effects of a sedentary job. If this isn’t an option, instead of using the elevator to move between floors, take the stairs. Use your lunch break to take a walk or stand while on a call. While there are dangers to a desk job, there are several means by which to engage in healthier habits.
1. Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle: MedlinePlus. (2017, October 4). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/healthrisksofaninactivelifestyle.html
2. Levine, J. A., Lanningham-Foster, L. M., McCrady, S. K., Krizan, A. C., Olson, L. R., Kane, P. H., Clark, M. M. (2005, January 28). Interindividual Variation in Posture Allocation: Possible Role in Human Obesity. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/307/5709/584
3. Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability, warns WHO. (n.d.). (2002, April 4). http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/