For Your Health: Take a Stand Against Too Much Sitting

By Dr. Graham A. Colditz, Siteman Cancer Center

A common refrain these days is that “sitting is the new smoking.” And while that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s a catchy phrase that does actually bear some weight.

Sitting increases the risk of many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers. It’s even been found to take years off of a person’s life, with one study showing that six percent of all premature deaths could be linked to too much sitting.

As if that’s not bad enough, studies have also reported that prolonged sitting has unique health risks that can’t be fully exercised away, no matter how much time we spend at the gym or local running track. “Even among people who do moderate-to-vigorous activities for seven or more hours per week, those who sit too much have an increased risk of death,” says Dr. Yikyung Park, a nutritional epidemiologist and associate professor in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

And, unfortunately, sitting for long stretches of time is something many of us do. One national survey completed before the explosion of smartphones and social media found that we spend more than half of our waking hours being sedentary. Another showed that if we work at a desk or office job, we may spend as much as 80 to 90 percent of our work days being sedentary.

With numbers like that, it’s important for many of us to look after our health by taking steps to cut down on the amount of time we spend sitting. Luckily, compared to some other healthy behaviors, it’s pretty easy to do. We just need to stand up more throughout the day. Of course, figuring out how to make that a part of our regular routines can take a little bit of planning.

Work is a great place to start on that front, since it’s where many of us spend much of our week and log much of our sitting time. One international scientific panel recommends workers stand for at least two hours each work day, building up to four hours a day.

“Use a standing desk. Organize stand-up meetings. While on the phone, stand up. If you have a short message for a colleague, deliver it in person instead of calling or writing an email,” suggests Park.

When you’re at home, try doing some things standing that you’d normally do sitting. Have your cereal and catch up on the morning’s news while standing in the kitchen. When going out for coffee with friends, pick a place at a counter so you can stand comfortably. And when relaxing with a favorite TV show, stand through an episode or get up during commercials or between shows.

“Break up a long period of sitting as often as possible,” says Dr. Park. And just like with exercising, it’s also important to build up slowly to longer periods of standing so your body has a chance to adjust to the change.

Whether we are at work or home, our surroundings can feel like one big invitation to sit down, and for hours on end. For our health and well-being, it’s important to take a stand against that – and stand.

It’s your health. Take control.