Is sitting the new smoking?

A person need not become a product of the sedentary environment in which they work

Bill Victor

Every day, millions of people create the inferior by sitting on their posterior. In other words, they sit. In fact, the numbers are staggering when reviewed more comprehensively, to the tune of a whopping seven hours per day that the average person sits.

In a society where obesity, diabetes, depression and high blood pressure are singly credited as a component of sedentary behavior, the “sitters” have every reason to be concerned. In fact, sitting has become so pervasive in our society that scientists have coined extreme sedentary behavior as “the sitting disease.”

According to the research of Dr. Martha Grogan from the Mayo Clinic, “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.” Scientists and physicians have furthered the concern by saying that 30 minutes in the gym may not suffice in the effort to counteract the effects of sitting seven to nine hours per day.

Naturally, the interpretation of these facts can lead a person toward an effective solution. In other words, finding reasons to stand and work can be that perfect elixir to minimize the skeletal and physiologic effects that countless hours of sitting can have on the body.

From an anatomical perspective, the stress of sitting on the low back can wreak mechanical havoc on a person’s level of comfort and lead to problems further down the road. The low back’s inward curvature is primarily comprised of the first through fifth lumbar spine (L1-L5), which when standing can receive assistance through the support of the legs. Sitting, however, allows the mid-section to be overly relaxed causing the natural curvature of the spine to be exaggerated as the pelvis (“hip bone”) rolls forward and the high pelvis rolls back, absorbing the weight of the upper torso and “over curving” the inward roll of the lumbar spine. Pain becomes worse when a person has an underdeveloped core (the group of muscles that surround the midsection of the body primarily focused on maintain low back stability).

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end with the low back. Those two cord-like muscles in the front of the hips, known as hip flexors, also shorten with longer contracted periods of sitting, and ultimately make standing completely upright more difficult.

From a physiologic perspective, science is coming to the conclusion that exercising is not the same thing as being physiologically active – those simple behaviors that are losing their way in the American lifestyle, such as walking to more destinations, watching less television or simply standing more. This ultimately lends itself to the realization that the one daily hour in the gym is not going to undo the sedentary effects of sitting for countless hours every day.

A 2010 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that when healthy men limited their number of footsteps by 85 percent for two weeks, they experienced a 17 percent decrease in insulin sensitivity, raising their diabetes risk. “We’ve done a lot to keep people alive longer, but that doesn’t mean we’re healthier,” says Ph.D. Marc Hamilton, of The Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Hamilton’s research has continued to demonstrate that the hours a person sits can shorten their life span regardless of how fit or lean their bodies are.

While the statistics may seem cryptic, a person need not become a product of the sedentary environment in which they work and function. In other words, sitting is often a choice when standing is a viable option. There are multiple ways to offset the effects of sitting, whether it is taking more phone calls while standing, taking a five-minute timeout every hour to perform squats by your desk, walking a flight of stairs, or standing at the back of the room during a meeting (if politically acceptable). Keep in mind that the time spend sitting is the cumulative effect of the time eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, sitting in your car to and from work, sitting at your job itself and passive behavior at home including computing in a chair or watching television.

Although not a panacea, another step in the right direction is the movement toward standing work desks, which can be adjusted for sitting or standing, ideally the latter of the two. In addition to increasing a person’s metabolic rate, burning as many as 50 calories more per hour versus sitting, the standing desk is conducive to a healthier and more energetic workforce. Relatively new to the marketplace are working treadmills that allow an individual to move at a rate of 1-2 miles per hour while working at an elevated desk.

Regardless of whether you sit or stand at your work, the bottom line is that the accumulated time of either of those two activities can play the greatest role at increasing or decreasing your level of overall health, heart disease and lifespan.

Bill Victor, M.S., ISSA Elite Trainer, is the president of Victor Fitness and Sports Performance Training (www.victor-fitness.com), a multifaceted fitness training and community-centered business. Victor Fitness can be reached by calling 360.750.0815 or by sending an email to bill@victor-fitness.com.

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