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Sitting Disease & How to Avoid It

Kid sitting in chair under desk

If you’re reading this, you’re probably doing so while seated in your couch, or at your work desk. Many don’t realize how much time is spent sitting down, especially since most tasks that once required us to be on the move (paying bills, shopping, etc.) have become unnecessary. In fact, the average person who sleeps 8 hours a day can expect to spend the remaining 16 hours performing work or household-related tasks. Many public health experts, including the U.S. National Institute of Health have spent quite a bit of time researching the effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to a variety of health factors like heart disease, cancer and obesity. However, many still don’t know what sitting disease actually is.

What Exactly Is Sitting Disease?

Sitting Disease is a term used by medical professionals to describe metabolic syndrome and the factors that encourage sedentary behaviors. It’s interesting to note that research and studies related to sitting disease didn’t have a term until 2004, when medical researchers decided to use “inactivity physiology” to describe “the potential causal role of sedentary behaviors in the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disease”. The NIH has also found that in studies related to inactivity physiology, it is highly likely that sitting disease will become a more serious health problem with further innovations in technology and culture. The Centers for Disease Control has also conducted some studies specific to the effects of prolonged sitting in the workplace. They have found that performing a physical activity to disrupt sedentary behaviors related to sitting disease does help to decrease the development of metabolic syndrome, but at a very slow rate. Why does it matter so much?  A recent study suggests that as your sitting time increases in frequency and duration, so does your risk of early death. According to juststand.org, sitting disease is by far one of the most unanticipated health threats of our time. It isn’t hard to see why, since most don’t believe that sitting down, which is considered a form of rest and relaxation, can also lead to serious health factors overtime.

I Exercise Quite a Bit. I’m Not At Risk for Sitting Disease, Right?

A common misconception that people have is that regular exercise is a good way to compensate for sedentary behaviors. The truth is that sitting disease can still occur even if you do the recommended amount of exercise. Research from NIH suggests that “sitting too much is not the same as lack of exercise and, as such, has its own unique metabolic consequences”.  For example, if you spend 30 minutes of time working out or exercising in the gym, followed by 6 hours laying in bed binging your favorite tv show, the chances of developing sitting disease is still pretty possible.

Want to Avoid Sitting Disease? Here’s How.

The human body was made to move. However, if you, like many others, have a sitting job, movement can be challenging. Fortunately, there are two ways to avoid sitting disease, and they don’t require over the counter prescriptions, or some complicated contraption that attaches to your work desk or chair:

Standing...

….And walking.

Standing and walking actually do very well to combat the many health concerns associated with sitting disease. If you alternate between sitting and standing for intervals of 30-minutes, you actually optimize your body for a better metabolic state, which encourages over all health and well being.

Aside from a boosted metabolism, standing also helps to:

  • Improve Posture:
  • Reduce Osteoporosis
  • Reduce Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
  • Enhance Brain Power
  • Reduce Risk of Early Mortality

Walking actually burns 3x as much calories than sitting, so it’s easy to see why it’s a better idea to be on your feet, or on the move–as much as possible. 

Don't be afraid to take a walk during breaks or lunch.

A daily, brisk walk has many benefits, and can help you:

  • Maintain or lose weight
  • Prevent or manage many conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, or Type II diabetes
  • Strengthen your bones
  • Improve your balance and coordination
  • Improve your mood
  • Improve your creativity and problem-solving

While there are many benefits to walking, it’s just as important to keep these things in mind with each stride:

  • Hold your head up, looking forward – not at the ground
  • Swing your arms freely, elbows slightly bent
  • Stay relaxed in your neck, shoulders and back
  • Keep your abs slightly tightened and your back straight
  • Roll through your feet from heel to toe

While a sedentary lifestyle encourages serious health concerns, the combination of walking and standing fends off the risk for sitting disease. So, don’t be afraid to take a walk around the block.

Walk over to your coworker’s desk instead of sending that lengthy email. Stand up every once in a while & look out the window. Your overall health will be better for it!

Sources:

Prompts to Disrupt Sitting Time and Increase Physical Activity at Work, 2011–2012

https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/13_0318.htm

Too Little Exercise and Too Much Sitting: Inactivity Physiology and the Need for New Recommendations on Sedentary Behavio

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419586/#R20

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