We do it in church (at least I have – but don’t tell anybody). We do it on the beach. We do it when we attend a concert or a sporting event. We do it in the golf cart. We do it when we get our hair cut. We do it when we attend a concert or a sporting event. Women do it all the time when they use the restroom. Men do it some of the time when they use the restroom.
Most of us do it most of the time most days of the week. We do it when we drive to work. Most of us do it most of the day at work. We do it when we drive home from work. We do it when eat at home. We do it when we eat at a restaurant. Some are so good at doing it they do it with their eyes closed. Some think when they do it. Some read when they do it. Some watch television when they do it. Some smoke when they do it. Some drink when they do it. Some do nothing at all when they do it.
So what is this thing we do most of time? We SIT! We do it on average 9 to 10 hours a day. And, it is not healthy as much as we do it.
What did you think we were talking about – something else?
Sitting Is the New Smoking
Sitting is now considered the new smoking. In How to Age Faster and Die Younger we discussed the effects of smoking, obesity, and stress on telomere length, which ultimately determines our longevity (see Telomeres: A Key to Longevity). Smoking shortens telomeres the equivalent of 4.6 years. We don’t know the precise effects of sitting on telomere length, but this study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine did show that less time sitting is associated with telomere lengthening. The longer telomeres are the longer you can expect to live.
The results of this study are probably not surprising. But, what was interesting in that study was there was little correlation between exercise and telomere length. In other words, telomere length improvement was attributed to not being sedentary more so than due to exercise. It’s not how much you exercise that matters when it comes to health. It’s how much you don’t sit.
We have perfected sitting so much that we have taken it to a whole new level. We have even now added a new category when it comes to classifying people based on activity level. It is called Actively Sedentary. No joke. Actively sedentary people are those who are active one hour a day but sit the rest of the day.
We alluded to the harms of sitting in our article, Staying Active is NEAT! NEAT is an acronym for non exercise activity thermogenesis and represents the calories we burn during all physical activities other than volitional exercise performed to improve fitness. The more you sit, the less NEAT you have, and the less neat you will look and feel.
We are learning that what is important for health is it is not how much you exercise, but rather how much time you do not sit that. Not sitting is the single best way to increase your NEAT. Two hours of sitting cancels out the benefits that come from 20 minutes of exercise. So four hours of sitting wipes out 40 minutes of exercise. And, many of us sit at least four hours a day with few exercising 40 minutes everyday. The key is not to sit.
Much of our sitting occurs at work. Some employers have noticed this and have become more intune to the hazards of sitting. A few are beginning to provide employees with adjustable work stations to allow for more standing.
It’s Difficult to Out Exercise Sitting
To be more precise. Every unit of sitting cancels out 8% of your gain obtained from an equal amount of running. Here’s an example. Let’s say you run for an hour which most people do not do. If you then sit for 10 hours of day you will lose 80% of the health benefit from running that hour. Those who do exercise generally do not do more than 30 to 40 minutes a day. Keep in mind that few exercise everyday. If one sits more than 60% of their work day alone he/she is wiping out 80% of the their exercise benefit (assuming it’s running) on the days he/exercises based on that 30 to 40 minutes.
Again, we sit an average of 9 to 10 hours a day. This means we would have to run 100 minutes each day to offset that amount of sitting.
What does this all mean? It means it is very difficult to exercise yourself out of sitting just like you cannot out exercise a bad diet. Sitting is bad and we do most of the time that we are not lying down sleeping. We even sit sometimes when we exercise (stationary bike and lift weights in some cases).
Health Harm from Sitting
Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is very important in reducing the risk of obesity, heart attacks, cancer, and premature death. So what is better for health? Not sitting and not exercising? Or, exercising with some sitting? It would be hard to convince many of this, but based on what we stated above, not exercising and not sitting appears to be the healthier option.
Exercise and Weight Loss
Along those same lines what is important for weight loss? Dietary habits? Or, exercise? The bigger bang for the buck when it comes to weight loss is what you eat, not how much you exercise. Consider this. You have to walk up 20 flights of stairs to burn the calories found in one slice of white bread. Finding a more physically active job can provide you with more benefit than formal structured exercise when it comes to calorie burning. For instance, someone who stands all day like a cashier burns 400 more calories a day then the administrative assistant who sits most of the day but still able to get up and walk around some. The average person would have to run about four miles a day to compensate and burn an additional 400 calories.
The point is not that exercise is not helpful. The key is to simply stay busy doing something that does not involve lying down or sitting and (watch what you eat when it comes to weight loss). When it comes to sitting, “Just Don’t Do It!”
To improve your health, don’t sit! That’s about as simple as it can be stated. In a future post we will discuss what actually happens to the body and our physiology when we sit. So stay tuned. But, don’t sit around waiting for that article.
Now for those of you who were expecting something else when you read “how much do you do it” maybe we will do an article on that activity someday. After all, that is one way to improve your NEAT.