Sitting: public enemy #1


Posted by Joanna Meade

Mar 19, 2014

Bias notwithstanding, my mom is pretty amazing. She plays tennis like I much as possible. About 6 months ago she started having low back pain, which migrated into her hip, then through her glute and down her leg. It would come and go, and it would change locations. She didn’t think too much about it. That is, until she ended up in the hospital with severe back pain earlier this winter. To add to her pain, she hasn't been able to play tennis or engage in her normal social interactions. It's been a pretty miserable winter.

Like many Americans, for the last 30 years or so she has sat at a desk for 8 hours a day. She commutes to work 30 minutes each direction, so another hour is spent in the car. Add another hour or two for dinner and any tv she might watch and suddenly she is sitting for over 10 hours each day. Even though she is active, playing tennis five to six days a week for an hour or more, mountain biking and gardening on the weekends, a new study indicates that all the sitting could be taking a toll.

It’s well known that the more sedentary you are, the greater the risk of all disease and mortality. But a recent study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, indicates sitting is a health hazard all by itself. It found that regardless of how much they exercise, for individuals 60 or older, each additional hour of sitting per day increases the likelihood of becoming physically disabled by 50%. Meaning, if sitting for 10 hours daily gave you a 6% risk of becoming disabled, bumping up your sitting time only one more hour to 11 hours a day would increase your risk by an additional 3%. The study found each hour per day spent sitting increased the odds of problems with daily living by 46%. Increasing exercise did not negate the risk.

Why is sitting so bad for you and what can you do about it?

There was a great Washington Post infographic recently about the dangers of sitting. I printed out copies and posted it above every computer in the office at the gym. I’m looking at it right now and reminding myself to sit up tall while I type. The dangers include organ damage, muscle degeneration, neck, shoulder and back pain, decreased circulation and bone density problems, not to mention increased disability and mortality risk.

You can’t make up for it at the gym. In order to maintain your muscles’ ability to do low-intensity, basic tasks you have to use them for a long duration throughout the entire day doing said low-intensity, basic tasks. You have to incorporate non-fatiguing activity into your daily routine as much as possible to stave off the negative health effects of sitting. Lifting weights a few times a week won't work your muscles the same way. That means incorporate walking around the office several times a day, walking to a co-worker's desk instead of sending a message, using a far away printer or bathroom on another floor, parking at the far end of the parking lot, and standing while you talk on the phone. Here are some other great ideas to keep you moving throughout the day, complete with a difficulty, sweatiness and humiliation rating.

My mom has regained her ability to get around and exercise. She's been getting out on the court a couple times a week, but it is literally a pain in the butt. That’s a referred pain joke. I couldn’t help myself. She is coping with degenerating disks, and compressed nerves. Sitting has likely contributed more to her current condition than a lack of exercise. It turns out the old saying is true; move it or lose it!

Topics: Personal Training