Blogs & Comment

Sitting: A lethal activity

How little movements can prevent the unhealthy side effects of what you're doing right now.

The thing you’re doing right now—sitting—may be killing you. Even if you’re following my instructions on how to do it properly, research shows the activity of sitting for many hours a day can shave years of your life. Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center says sitting makes your calorie-burning rate plunge because your body can’t break down fats, and insulin effectiveness drops, increasing your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to the New York Times. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist for the American Cancer Society says the death rate for men who spend more than six hours of leisure time sitting compared with those who spend just three is 20% higher and 40% higher for women.

Don’t panic—there are solutions. Dr. Levine of Rochester’s Mayo Clinic revisited a study he did a decade ago that found after gorging subjects with an extra 1,000 calories per day, the only difference between those that did and didn’t gain more weight were the latter group moved around more unconsciously. This includes things like taking the stairs, walking to the office cooler, or even just fidgeting. Since then, he’s developed a concept called NEAT. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis refers to the little movements that make a big difference. An example could be tying your shoe, getting up to ask your desk mate something rather than sending an email or stretching. According to a NY Times reporter who went to the Mayo clinic for testing, there were big spikes in his calorie-burning rate when he bent over. Obese subjects averaged 1500 daily movements and nearly 600 minutes of sitting. Farm workers in Jamaica average 5,000 movements and 300 minutes sitting. So don’t just sit there.

If your job doesn’t involve plowing the land, there are more realistic solutions, on top of just building small movements into your day. For example, you could get yourself a work station with a desk that alternates heights so you can stand for periods of the day. At Stanford’s design school, the workspace is meant to keep students constantly moving (fourth picture down), with desks that are awkward heights and wall hangings that are hard to reach. If that much movement sounds too ambitious, just keep in mind that you shouldn’t be sitting for more than 50 minutes at a time, according to Diane Stinson, the president of Healthworks Inc. After that, she says your ligaments start to slack off, and you may have more to worry about than just a spare tire.