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Is Sedentary Behavior The New Cancer?

Our bodies are meant to move. Even as I sit here writing this blog, I find myself readjusting my position, stretching out kinks in my back and neck, and trying as hard as I can to fix my horrendous posture. To me, this is my body telling me that sitting for an extended period of time is not a natural state of being. 

Perhaps it is even dangerous to my health.

Throughout the past several years, researchers have looked into this idea on many different accounts. There is now loads of information out there on exercise: how much we should do, how often we should do it, how long we should do it for, etc. However, researchers are now suggesting that just like there are guidelines for exercise, there should be guidelines for sitting (or lack thereof). 

First, lets looks at the numbers. Researchers look at two different statistics when it comes to sitting: 1.) total sitting time during our waking hours 2.) how long we sit for at a time (consecutive sitting stretches). Here are some numbers that they found:

  • Those who sat for 13 hours or more per day have a 200% greater risk of early death than those who sat for 11 hours/day or less.
  • Those who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had a 53% lower risk of early death than those who sat for more than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Those who sat for 90 minutes or more at a time had a 200% greater risk of early death than those who sat for less than 90 minutes a time.

So what is it about sitting that causes early death? Unfortunately, we are not entirely sure. Some hypothesize that the decrease in our daily net energy expenditure causes it, while others believe it causes reductions in our insulin sensitivity. Whatever the cause, the statistics are no joke. 

The good news? There are some obvious steps (no pun intended) we can take to defeat this. A common misconception seems to be that if we exercise frequently and at a high intensity, we are untouchable; however, moving for an hour or so per day, despite the intensity, does not negate the other 10-13 hours we (on average) spend sitting. A simple trick to combat these negative side-effects is every 30 minutes, get up and walk/move briskly for 5 minutes. Other ways include increasing your NEAT (see earlier blog post) by washing the dishes by hand, taking the stairs, parking further away and walking, etc. 

Now, this all sounds great on paper, but putting it into practice can sometimes be a different story. We have all been there - we are in “the zone” on our computer, phone, etc. and feel like taking a break will ruin everything. Either this, or we feel like we have too much work to do that we can’t take time for a break. However, getting up and moving around can help increase circulation to the brain, allowing us to re-focus and increase the efficiency of our work. Consider it a “brain break.”

Moral of the story? Move more, sit less.

Stephanie Spoto, CSCS

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