Our society has become accustomed to sitting for long hours at a time. On average, Americans sit for 7.7 hours per day. If you think that this is of no consequence, I urge you to think again. Research shows that prolonged sitting, referred to as "sitting disease," can have deleterious effects on the body. So much so that scientists and healthcare professionals have coined the phrase "sitting is the new smoking.”
When we don't move, we can become bigger, weaker and sicker (physically and mentally). After just a few hours of sitting, our bodies go into storage mode, which disrupts our ability to effectively metabolize sugar and fat. Overtime, this can lead to hypertension, diabetes, obesity and depression among other diseases, leaving the body vulnerable to heart attack, stroke and cancer. Sitting for long periods each day can shorten your life, but James Brown said it best when he sang, "Get up off that thing, and dance til you feel better."
Movement is crucial to healthy and disease-free living. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists a sedentary lifestyle as one of the four modifiable risk factors that lead to preventable disease, along with smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor diet. Research shows that a lack of movement can have a number of ill effects on the body that a daily exercise regimen may not be able to reverse or combat.
In addition to making our daily trips to the gym moot, prolonged sitting has adverse effects on our musculoskeletal system. It weakens our gluteal and core muscles in the same way that a cast immobilizes a limb and weakens the muscles. This is turn predisposes us to a host of spinal, hip and lower extremity ailments.
To counter the effects of sitting on the body's musculature, I recommend squats. Squatting is a primitive movement that we are designed to perform. It engages the same muscles that become dormant after long hours of sitting.
Additionally, I recommend getting up two-to-three times each hour and stretching; lift your arms toward the ceiling and drive your hips forward. Going to the water cooler or walking to the bathroom are other great ways to take a break from sitting. If you’re looking for more ways to decrease your total time sitting during the workday, try modifying your workspace by using a standing desk or just moving your laptop to a counter or the top of a file cabinet. Be creative. One of my clients rigged his standing computer desk to a treadmill. Do whatever it takes.
I cannot stress enough that working out 30-60 minutes, three-to-four times a week is important but can’t undo the harm caused by sitting for prolonged periods. Do your best to avoid excessive sitting and remain as active during the day as possible. Easy to incorporate options include taking the stairs, starting a walking group at work, parking as far from the entrance as possible to accumulate extra steps or listening to some upbeat music and dancing while you cook or perform household chores. Maybe even practice some James Brown moves while you're at it.