From smart phones to computers to iPads, our beloved electronic devices are crippling our posture and contributing to weight gain, back pain, and joint problems like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies and exercises – such as changing your position often and “reorganizing” your torso – that can address a lot of these potential problems and help keep you more fit and properly aligned.
As miserable as back pain is, that may be the least of your worries if you spend a significant portion of your time on your duff. Sitting may actually cut years off your life. Lack of exercise is sitting’s evil accomplice. The more you sit, the less your body wants to move.
According to a study in the British Medical Journal,1 reducing the average time you spend sitting to less than three hours per day could increase your life expectancy by two years, which is a significant decrease from the 4.5 to 5 hours per day the average American now spends on a chair or sofa.
An analysis of 18 studies showed that people who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least.2 Sitting has actually joined smoking and obesity as an important risk factor for chronic disease.
The Price You Pay for a Sedentary Lifestyle
A number of studies have investigated the health ramifications of a sedentary lifestyle. The research linking too much sitting with increased risks of disease and premature death is quite noteworthy:
- Men who were sedentary for more than 23 hours a week had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who were sedentary less than 11 hours a week, according to a 2010 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.3
- A study of more than 17,000 Canadians found that the mortality risk from all causes was 1.54 times higher among people who spent most of their day sitting, compared to those who sat infrequently.4
- According to an Australian study, sitting time is a predictor of weight gain among women, even after controlling for calories consumed and leisurely physical activity, such as exercise.5
- People who use a computer for at least 11 hours per week or watch TV for more than 21 hours per week are more likely to be obese than those who use a computer or watch TV for more than 5 hours per week.6
- Your risk of metabolic syndrome rises in a dose-dependent manner depending on your “screen time” (the amount of time you spend watching TV or using a computer). Physical activity has only a minimal impact on the relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome.7
Going to the Gym May NOT Be Enough
Interestingly, research has also suggested a regular fitness regimen might be insufficient to counteract the effects of excessively sedentary habits during the remaining hours of the day, due to the adverse metabolic impact of sitting. Especially if the fitness regimen is focused around equipment that puts you back in a seated position like a recumbent bike or rowing machine. A 2009 study8 highlighted much of the contemporary evidence linking sitting with biomarkers of poor metabolic health, showing how total sitting time correlates with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other prevalent chronic health problems.
According to the authors:
“Even if people meet the current recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days each week, there may be significant adverse metabolic and health effects from prolonged sitting – the activity that dominates most people’s remaining ‘non-exercise’ waking hours.”
In other words, even if you’re fairly physically active, riding your bike to work or hitting the gym four or five days a week, you may still succumb to the effects of too much sitting if the majority of your day is spent behind a desk or on the couch. Researchers have dubbed this phenomenon the “active couch potato effect.”
According to a New York Times article,9 after just an hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat in your body declines by as much as 90 percent. Extended sitting slows your body’s metabolism of glucose and decreases your HDL, which is the type of lipid you want MORE of, instead of less. This explains why those who sit habitually for extended periods of time have higher risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.