A few years ago I read an article about a stand up workstation and I remember I found it slightly exaggerated. A few years later my opinion changed on this. After reading some books/studies on this topic I came to the conclusion that sitting is really much more unhealthy than we think. But why is sitting bad for you? And what are the solutions?
”Our bodies are made for motion not for stillness”- Murat Dalkilinç
Why sitting is bad for you
Let’s start with the fact that I have a poor (sitting) posture, so I’m not doing very well. But even if you have a good/better posture, sitting is unnatural and unhealthy. Unfortunately, we spend quite some hours per day in a sitting position. Dutch people for example sit 8.7 hours a day on average. Young people (12 to 20 years old) sit even more with an average of 10.4 hours per day (!). The international average is 7.7 hours a day. We are sitting in the car when we drive, when we watch television, when we go out to eat, at work, but it’s an unnatural position that is not health promoting. The body is not build to sit for longer periods of time and this comes with certain health risks. Prolonged sitting is associated with an increased risk of lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, weight gain and cardiovascular diseases (also known as ”sitting diseases”). In addition, you can develop issues with your muscles and joints too.
”Sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.”~ Martha Grogan, Cardiologist, Mayo Clinic
Can we compensate prolonged sitting by working out?
At first, I thought that if I work out (and go for a walk around lunchtime) I can compensate for the hours of sitting behind my computer. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Sports and any type of movement for that matter are all very healthy, but if you sit at your desk for hours after doing a workout you still risk developing a ”sitting disease”. The studies whether working out is a good way to compensate prolonged sitting are a bit contradictory. Some sources will conclude that an hour of working out per day can’t compensate the sitting hours. Other studies such as this study from 2016 show that a daily workout (60-75 minutes per day) can compensate the sitting hours. But this study is not very groundbreaking, because although it contains data of 1,005,791 people from 16 studies, the biggest disadvantage of this study is that the authors only included English-language papers, so other relevant studies may have been excluded.
8 simple solutions
- According to many authors and experts, a standing work situation is the best solution for a better and more active work posture. This can be achieved by using for example a dynamic desk. Aim to stand for 3 hours per day while working.
- Why sit when you can stand? Sometimes sitting is a habit. Why are we sitting while talking to a colleague or when we are on the phone?
- A fitness watch like the FitBit can help by reminding you (with a little vibration) that you’ve been inactive for too long. Sometimes we just forget how long we’ve actually been sitting, right?
- Change your position. Studies (such as the one from Dr. Vernikos) show that the risks of prolonged sitting can be countered if you get up every twenty minutes.
- Extend, stretch and move on your seat. Moving on your chair, being aware of your posture, stretching your legs, tightening your muscles and changing sitting position can also help.
- Walk while doing typical sedentary activities. After working for hours in the office (sitting), there are also quite a few hours we spend sitting at home, such as when reading a book or watching television or going for a drink with a friend. These are all things that we can (partly) do while standing or walking. I like to for example watch/listen to podcasts /books /YouTube videos while I’m on my rebounder. When I meet with someone I always like to catch up while going for a walk through the city.
- Research (2013) show that watching television (an average of 6 hours a day) can reduce our life expectancy for more than five years compared to adults who don’t watch television. You can try to reduce the number of hours watching television by for example going for a bike ride, a walk, or using a hometrainer to watch episodes of your favorite series.
- If you know better, you do better. If the references below are a bit too boring to read then I can recommend this book that will certainly inspire you to reduce the hours of sitting per day ”Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It”. I can also recommend this website for some tips, facts and challenges.
Every little bit helps. You don’t have to avoid sitting at all times and stand while watching your favorite Netflix series, but avoid prolonged sitting. I’m very fascinated by a ”standing work desk situation” and I’m going to try this out for at least a few hours a day with help ”Upstaa”. I will come back to you with a review about that. Meanwhile, I’m curious to know if you are very concious about how many hours you’re sitting per day.
I’m not paid to write this article and this article is not sponsored by Upstaa.
- James A. Levine, Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, 2014 Palgrave Macmillan Trade
- Katja de Bruin, Zitten is het nieuwe roken, 2015 de Geus
- Joan Vernikos, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death — and Exercise Alone Won’t, 2011 Quill Driver Books
- Biswas A, Oh PL et al. Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysisSedentary Time and Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132.
- Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia. 2012 Nov;55(11):2895-905.
- Dr Stacy Clemes, Senior Lecturer in Human Biology, Loughborough University. Setting the Scene – How Much Time Do We Sit? Changing Patterns of Sedentary Behaviour.
- Veerman LJ, Healy GN et al. Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis. Br J Sports Med 2012;46:927-930
– TNO, Trendonderzoek Bewegen en Gezondheid, 2013.
- Dr David Dunstan, Professor & Head, Physical Activity Laboratory, Baker IDI – Melbourne. Sedentary Behaviour and Risk Co-Relation to Cancer and Mental Health.
- Ekblom-Bak E, Ekblom B et al. The importance of non-exercise physical activity for cardiovascular health and longevity. Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-092038
- Van der Ploeg HP, Chey T et al. Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 Australian adults. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Mar 26;172(6):494-500. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2174.