Is Your Health at Risk for Sitting Too Much?
You’re active, you’re eating well and getting a full night’s rest on a regular basis. So does it really matter if you’re spending upwards of eight hours sitting at your desk every day? Without a doubt.
In a recent study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, adults who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 15% greater risk of dying within three years than those who sat for fewer than four hours a day. This risk still held true for those who spent part of their day exercising.
It gets worse. Those who sat for 11 hours or more a day had a 40% greater risk of early death compared to those who sat for under four hours.1 While sitting alone is not the sole root cause for increased risk, evidence suggests those who sit longer are often less active and make less healthy eating choices. It’s bad news from a physiological perspective.
Even if your Paleo eating is in check, keeping you from becoming pre-diabetic, and helping to minimize your risk for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and heart disease, if you’re sitting too much, you’re still doing the body a huge disservice from a kinesiology perspective.
One of my personal favorite articles on this topic is “Sitting is the Root of All Evil” by Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS, NASM-CPT, from his Essence of Program Design Companion Guide.2 He discusses the act of sitting, a completely sedentary activity, is at the root of all evil, from a fitness perspective. It causes a myriad of orthopedic problems as well as weakening specific muscles. Add in the fact that other muscles inherently become tighter simply being stuck in place for hours on end, and you’ve really got a recipe for becoming a candidate with poor posture, back problems, neck pain, internally rotated shoulders, weak abdominal muscles, tight hip flexors, poor circulation and headaches!
Finally, sitting simply isn’t a natural act for humans. We didn’t exactly find chairs in our natural environs while hunting and gathering! Squatting makes far more sense. Unfortunately, recent history has taught us the opposite.
The history of this intense Western dislike of squatting goes as far back as the 19th century when the British Empire ruled India. Squatting was equated to primitiveness whereas sitting in chairs suggested sophistication. Squatting became one of the compasses with which to measure the progress of civilization while the chair, and all variants thereof including the couch, became the measure by which to gauge a society’s civilized status.3
Of course, practically speaking, it’s not always that easy to sit less and squat more. It’s one thing to incorporate more squats at the gym, during yoga or at the end of a tough day when you’re zoning out in front of your favorite Netflix show; it’s another to squat at your conservative law firm or financial institution. There are other remedies, however, and they don’t involve finding a more causal place to work.
STRATEGIES TO SIT LESS, AND TO STAND AND SQUAT MORE
1. Incorporate a balance of stretches and strengthening exercises to do on a regular basis to offset the damage being done by sitting, not only at the gym but even during your workday.
Lean into the door jam with your arms against the walls for leverage or decompress your lumbar spine by gently twisting toward one side to the other are easy to do in even the most conservative of workplaces.
2. Opt for a standing desk or, in the case of a less conservative office, consider sitting on a stability ball, which will require you to engage your core muscles more so than slumping over at a desk chair.
3. If you must sit, choose a properly designed and fitted ergonomically designed chair.
4. Get up and walk around every hour to fill your water bottle will help to improve circulation and, as a result, mental focus. Not only will this behoove your posture, it can also help keep you sharp for that 3 pm presentation if timed properly.
“Doing about 20 minutes of exercise just before taking a test or giving a speech can improve performance,” said Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey.4
And every little bit counts, including a walk around the office building!
5. Get regular bodywork from a properly trained massage therapist who knows your body and listens to your feedback. The longer you work with the same person for consistency that knows exactly what your body needs, the more you’ll be able to stay injury free and healthy. Don’t make the mistake of classifying massage in the same category as luxury spa treatments, which are more a bonus versus a necessity.
Sit less, play more, eat well and you’ll soon find yourself standing a bit taller and moving with more fluidity. You have nothing to lose except those nagging aches and pains!
 “Are You Sitting Yourself to Death?” US News. U.S.News & World Report, n.d. Web. 06 July 2015
 “Sitting – The Root of All Evil!” Sitting – The Root of All Evil! N.p., n.d. Web. 06 July 2015.
 Shin, Yuna. “I Squat. Do You? Thoughts on Squatting vs. Sitting.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 06 July 2015.
 “4 Ways to Exercise Can Boost Your Mental Performance.” Boston.com. The New York Times, n.d. Web. 06 July 2015.