The USA Today has recently reported on a new health concern in a January 2014 Circulation article. There are significant health risks associated with sitting too long. I have long told my patients the value of movement and how it changes the chemistry of the entire body for the good. Now I am going to add that sitting for more than an hour at a time can stress the body and poses risk. This study followed more than 84,000 men over eight years and found that sitting more than 5 hours a day increased the risk of heart failure 53%. Regular exercise did not reduce one’s risk from sitting. Dr. Young’s study only included men from the ages of 45-69, but this data surely can be extrapolated to women. Older individuals have even greater risk. This is a major risk. Taking medication will not reduce the risk of heart failure to this degree.
A sedentary lifestyle has long been associated with greater health risks. Remember, we were not designed to sit. Older studies have suggested that each hour of sitting raises the risk of heart failure 18%. If you think of all the sitting that goes on in our world, the desk jobs, computer terminals, those driving – especially the truckers, the airplane trips, sitting in your place of worship, going to school all day, the couch potatoes, and yes even you who are reading this article are probably sitting. What about our youth? Many of them sit long hours at school. I am sure the health risks accumulate over years. Do we need an overhaul of our entire culture?
What does sitting actually do? Without getting too complicated, prolonged sitting changes our metabolism negatively. We are more likely to get type 2 diabetes which damages blood vessels and other parts of the body. In addition, our venous circulation becomes more stagnant. We have all heard about those who ride a long time in the car or plane having a blood clot in the leg which can move to the lungs. Pulmonary embolisms can be fatal! In addition sitting can cause hip and spinal problems. Think about this. When we sit with poor posture, we become a C–shaped spine instead of an S-shaped spine. This can lead to back problems especially increasing the workload of the lower back. Many of the back problems are the result of sitting and the bad posture produced over long periods of time.
It is estimated that half of all people sit more than 6 hours a day. Even if these people are in active exercise programs they still have the added risk of diabetes, heart failure, vein problems, and back issues when sitting too long. What can we do?
For one, an awareness, and perhaps a timer on the belt might be a good starting point. In all seriousness, we must get up and move every hour. Some put devices under the desk to keep the legs moving. I think the place I would start, the first step toward better health would be an awareness. Know how long you have been sitting anywhere, the desk, car, at home, at a restaurant, at church or wherever you are, and when you have sat for an hour, get up and move around, sooner if possible. This will lower your risk of heart disease diabetes, bad veins, blood clots, back problems, and who knows what else. This does make sense as we were not made to sit for prolonged periods. If we do this, another stressor can be avoided. The closer we move toward our original design, the fewer problems we experience. Medicines and treatments might help the symptoms, but I want us to take another small step forward and improve our health today by making sure we do not sit more than an hour at a time.
Let’s move towards health, one step at a time.