Why Sitting is Killing You

By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS, DACBSP

Modern conveniences, technologies, chairs, remotes, are designed to make our life easier but all of them encourage sitting. Chronic sitting steals our opportunities of habitual movements, we used to make before we lived without modern conveniences. Workplace office design, recreational activities and entertainment devices with remote controls are all designed to minimize moving. This is why the average American spends 9.5 hours sitting in a given day. It is estimated that 2 out of 3 people in the United States are unhealthy. Research dating back to the Apollo Space projects has shown that the human body declines rapidly when sitting for long periods of time. Society is on diverging pathways. Technological efficiency causes us to sit for excessive periods of time while the “fitness craze” has us performing P90X, Insanity and Cross-fit programs promising weight loss and a muscular body. The reality and science clearly show that exercising one time per day does not prevent the effects of sitting. How many people do you know that “exercise” and are still overweight? You simply cannot neutralize 9.5 hours of sitting by going to the gym for 60 minutes 3 or 4 days per week.

The human body was designed to be a perpetual motion machine moving all day, every day, including weekends. Gravity can keep the body tuned with daily movements used in activities of daily living. Move with purpose, go somewhere, do something, not on a machine that has you spinning in place. The concept of chronic movement is now referred to as NEAT or nonexercise activity thermogenesis. Simply put, moving often for as long as possible. Instead of chronically sitting we should be chronically moving.

As kids growing up in a pre-technology world, NEAT was part of our daily life. Examples of NEAT from my own upbringing are walking 1.7 miles each way to school, riding my bike 4.5 miles each way to the Babe Ruth field for games, and walking 1.2 miles to the cinema or shopping mall. We walked or rode our bike everywhere we could. We stayed outside until dark running, walking or playing basketball. We were in constant motion. Then came cable television and the genesis of the sedentary society. Some have said that sitting is the new smoking. In the ‘70’s we were moving 8-9 hours per day. In 2014 we are sitting 9-10 hours per day.

Dr. Joan Vernikos a former NASA researcher and author of the book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals has shown that sitting produces similar aging affects to being in space. Sitting accelerates the aging process, while moving reverses the process. The affects of an anti-gravity environment that the astronauts were exposed to reversed once they returned to the gravity of earth.

Introducing NEAT back into your day without formal exercise can also reverse the effects of aging such as high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, type-II diabetes, etc. A 2004 study of an Amish society revealed that Amish women walked ~14,000 steps per day and the men took ~18,000 steps per day or roughly 7-8 miles per day of walking. This population had lower levels of cancer and obesity. The funny thing was that they didn’t have one treadmill or a gymnasium chain available to them.

There are simple ways to fit NEAT into your day without giving up your automobile. If you conduct meetings in a conference room move the meeting outside and have a walking meeting. If you can’t move outside have a standing meeting with higher tables and a footrest. Standing meetings are healthier, faster and more efficient. If you talk on your cell phone why sit at a desk? After all it is a “mobile-phone” right? Then get mobile go for a walk down the hall or on the grounds. Take a 1-2 minute micro-break every 20-30 minutes to either, stand, stretch, walk or perform a task that doesn’t require sitting. When you go grocery shopping or to work park at the space furthest from the door instead of closest to the door. Use the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Look for opportunities to walk. Each day these opportunities are available but we pass them up for the sake of convenience.

Lastly, the national average for television watching is 5 hours per day. This can be time for stretching, CORE work, or performing the Tibetan rites. Anything but sitting on the couch. There are virtually unlimited opportunities for movement throughout the day, from housework or gardening, to cooking and even just standing up every10-20 minutes during the course of the day. I highly recommend the book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals by Dr. Vernikos. It will give you a different perspective on the need to get up and move and the difference it can make in your life.