This Is Really Bad for Your Health, and You Are Probably Doing It Right Now

There’s one thing that research consistently finds is terrible for your health, and I bet you are doing it right now.

This particular activity can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and anxiety.

On average, we do it 9.3 hours per day.

In fact, engaging in this activity for more than six hours a day might be just as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about sitting. Two new studies have shown more evidence that getting off our butts is crucial to good health.

Study #1

A team of researchers recently found new evidence to suggest that longer periods of sedentary time (defined as any sitting/reclining activity with low energy expenditure) are more strongly associated with the amount of fat deposited around internal organs (visceral fat – the bad stuff we’ve talked about before).

The research team – from the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, UK – took 124 participants at high risk of type 2 diabetes and measured the length of time they spent sedentary over a period of 7 days using accelerometers fitted to their waists.

They also scanned the participants using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment to accurately measure the amount of fat in the liver, inner (visceral) and outer (subcutaneous) fat layers, and total abdominal fat.

The study was published in the journal Obesity, and the findings were summarized in a press release:

Even when accounting for age, ethnicity and physical activity levels, the study team found that the longer a person remained sedentary during the day, the higher the levels of liver fat, inner (visceral) fat and total abdominal fat. The link was even stronger for participants who did not meet Public Health England’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week.

Dr Joe Henson, Research Associate at Leicester, led the study. He said: “We know that spending long periods of time sedentary is unhealthy and a risk factor for chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Likewise, the amount of fat deposited around our internal organs may also predispose us to these diseases.

“Using MRI techniques and physical activity monitors we have shown that the more time spent sedentary, the stronger the association with higher levels of internal and abdominal fat. This was particularly so if the long periods of sedentary behaviour were uninterrupted. Our findings also show that reaching the UK government’s target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity may offer some protection against the harmful effects of prolonged sedentary time.”

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Study #2

A new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that standing instead of sitting for six hours a day could prevent weight gain and help people to actually lose weight.

From the press release:

This paper examined whether standing burns more calories than sitting. The researchers analysed results from a total of 46 studies with 1,184 participants in all. Participants, on average, were 33 years old, 60% were men, and the average body mass index and weight were 24 kg/m2 and 65 kg, respectively.

The researchers found that standing burned 0.15 kcal per minute more than sitting. By substituting standing for sitting for six hours a day, a 65 kg person would expend an extra 54 kcal a day. Assuming no increase in food intake, that would equate to 2.5 kg in one year and 10 kg in four years.

The gap in energy expenditure between standing and sitting could be even greater than the study found. Participants were standing still, while in reality people usually do at least make small movements while standing.

Senior author Professor Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, Chief of Preventive Cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US, explained:

“Our results might be an underestimate because when people stand they tend to make spontaneous movements like shifting weight or swaying from one foot to another, taking small steps forward and back. People may even be more likely to walk to the filing cabinet or trash bin.”

The authors concluded that replacing standing for sitting may be yet another behavior change to help reduce the risk of long term weight gain. The long term health implications of standing for long periods of time also need to be explored, however.

Professor Lopez-Jimenez added:

“Standing not only burns more calories, the additional muscle activity is linked to lower rates of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, so the benefits of standing could go beyond weight control.

It’s important to avoid sitting for hours at a time. Standing is a very good first step — no pun intended — to avoid this mindset of sitting interminably without moving. Who knows, it may also prompt some people to do a little more and take up some mild physical activity, which would be even more beneficial.”

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What this means for you

Modern life just doesn’t allow many of us to be on our feet all day long (unless our jobs require it). But most of us CAN find the time to exercise every day, whether that means getting up earlier in the morning to fit in a walk outside (bonus: you’ll get some sunshine, which might help shrink some fat cells), a gym visit, or a home workout (try kettlebells for inexpensive yet very effective full body workouts). Some time off of our feet is better than little to none.

And, many of us who are stuck at desks all day can stand while working by using standing desks or workstations. Some people swear by them, but standing too much can also carry health risks, including back pain.

 

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About the author

Lisa Egan

Lisa is a researcher and writer who lives in the outskirts of D.C. She has a BS in Health Science with a concentration in Nutrition. Lisa has worked as a personal trainer and nutritionist and is a certified hypnotherapist. She enjoys helping people learn about how to improve their health.

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