This is the one piece of bad news you shouldn’t sit down for: Sitting for hours on end, every day, is bad for your health. Sitting at work is bad for you. Sitting after work is bad for you. Sitting is the new smoking, except that the furniture lobby probably isn’t as powerful as the tobacco one.
A lot of research has appeared in the last few years as a testament to all that is unholy about our love of office chairs, La-Z Boys, couches and cushions. What’s worse: Even a healthy amount of exercise can’t save you.
If you work in an office setting, sitting is hard to avoid, unless you’re an early adopter of the treadmill desk. You might laze around the house on your days off, but one study found that people spend more time sitting–and do less standing or walking–on work days compared to their leisure days.
You may have lost track of all of the ways that your office job can turn deadly. So as I sit hunched over in my rolling chair in a position that screams “live fast, die young,” let’s talk about what kind of damage all we, the over-sitters, are in for.
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In a February 2013 survey of 63,048 middle-aged Australian men, those who sat for more than four hours a day were significantly more likely to have a chronic disease like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The more time they spent sitting, the more likely the subjects were to have a chronic disease of some sort, regardless of their body mass index or how much they exercised. Those who sat at least six hours per day were significantly more likely to have diabetes in particular, a finding that echoed previous studies.
Reduced Life Expectancy
By reducing “excessive sitting” to less than three hours a day, the U.S. life expectancy could increase by two years, according to a July 2012 study in BMJ Open. Reducing TV time to less than two hours a day would bump it up by 1.4 years. (By comparison, smoking knocks off 2.5 years of life expectancy for men and 1.8 years for women.) The study estimated that the average adult spends 55 percent of his or her day doing something sedentary, but also notes that even high levels of self-reported sitting could be conservative. It’s not easy to remember all the time you’ve spent sitting during the day, since it’s not necessarily a domain-specific behavior like watching TV.
An October 2012 analysis of a self-reported survey — 6,379 people between the ages of 40 and 75 — found that even controlling for physical activity and body mass index, those who sat less had lower risk of having chronic kidney disease. The effect was especially profound in women: When they cut down their sitting time from a full workday to only three hours, their risk fell by more than 30 percent. For men, the risk decreased by 15 percent.
Poor Mental Health
Double whammy: Sitting could be bad for your mind, too. An April 2012 study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine analyzed the association between sedentary behavior and mental well-being using Well@Work, a workplace health promotion project in the UK. According to self-reported survey data from almost 3,500 people of non-occupational sitting time — watching TV, using a computer, driving, etc. — sitting time outside of work was negatively associated with mental health for women. Again, men got off comparatively easy — only sitting time at the computer negatively impacted their mental well-being.
Obesity And Metabolic Syndrome
Obese individuals sit 2.5 more hours a day than lean individuals, according to a November 2009 Obesity study. In turn, sitting more is associated with Metabolic Syndrome, a combination of factors — like abdominal obesity, low levels of “good cholesterol,” high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels or hyperglycemia — that together put you at a higher risk for serious medical issues like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A review study in PLOS ONE last year confirmed that people who spent more time being sedentary were 73 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome. In 2005, a group of researchers theorized that reducing TV and computer use to less than one hour a day outside of work could reduce the prevalence of adult metabolic syndrome in the U.S. by 30 to 35 percent.
Death From Colorectal Cancer
Even if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, sitting could still be what kills you. A January 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that both before and after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, more leisure time spent sitting down meant a higher risk of death. The study tracked the self-reported habits of more than 2,000 patients with colorectal cancer for up to 16 years after their diagnosis. The most physically active had a 28 percent lower chance of dying than those who exercised less. Those who spent at least six leisure hours a day sitting had a 36 percent greater risk of dying than those who sat less than three hours a day.
Death, Just Death. Soon.
A March 2012 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine tracking more than 200,000 Australian individuals 45 years and older found that regardless of sex, age and body mass, sitting puts you at a higher risk for mortality from all causes. People who sat more than 11 hours a day had a 40 percent higher risk of dying within three years. The risk of death was much lower for people who exercised five hours a week or more, but it didn’t negate the sitting death-trap. Time to shell out for a standing desk.