British adults now spend an average of nearly nine hours each day sitting down. And it’s ruining our health. Scientific evidence suggests too much time spent sitting can shave years off your life.
Too much sitting, it seems, is the new smoking and it substantially increases your long term, risk of contracting any of a host of serious diseases. We’re talking about a list of ailments including but not limited to: heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, back and neck problems, osteoporosis, and even depression and dementia.
And the bad news is that even if, like many of our readers, you work out and lead an otherwise active lifestyle, too much time spent on your behind is still bad for you. So what can we do about it?
Change your job
Are you an office worker who spends long hours each day, toiling behind a desk? Well you could always change your job. In the 1950s, a health study by Transport for London of its London Underground staff revealed that drivers, who spent most of the day sitting, were a staggering one and half times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their more active conductor colleagues. If you’ve ever fancied a career change to more a active occupation, now is the time to do it:
“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
—Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, in an address at Liverpool College, 20 December 1873
Standing behind a desk is nothing new: Churchill did it, Dickens did it, so did Ernest Hemingway. In fact if you were a 19th or early 20th century office worker, chances are you would have too. That’s because in those days, people didn’t sit when they needed a clear head, but stood; all the better to get those creative, analytical and problem solving juices flowing.
In Scandinavia, where everything is better apart from the weather, the right to a standing desk is enshrined in law. So have a chat to the HR department where you work and see what can be done. An enlightened employer could potentially raise productivity as well as wellbeing by letting you choose a standing desk.
If you have a sedentary job, one of the best things you can do to protect your health is to take regular breaks. In fact, according to research published in the European Heart Journal, even short standing breaks of a minute or two can help mitigate against the risks posed by sitting.
That’s because when you sit for longer than 90 minutes, your metabolism slows, enzymes that burn fat and bad (LDL) cholesterol are shut off, and blood sugar levels are disrupted. Standing up kickstarts your body, helping to keep it ticking over while you’re working on the next batch of reports, spreadsheets or performance tables.
Whether you take a stroll to the coffee machine or hit the gym and down some protein supplements, any movement is better than no movement!
Despite the fact that we now spend about half of our waking hours in chairs, we’re not designed to sit, but to squat on our haunches. So get up and perform a few air squats – it’s the natural thing to do – you’ve been doing it since you were a baby!
When we squat it brings the skills we’ve learned in the gym to bear on helping to alleviate the discomfort of long hours spent behind a desk. Not only does it bring the quads, hamstrings and glutes into play, but also activates the trunk muscles, helping to promote good core stability as well as giving your body’s metabolism the boost it needs.
If you are confined to a desk for lengthy periods, the latest advice is not to sit up straight. Researchers at the Radiological Society of North America used MRI scanning technology to show that the best position for sitting is at 135 degrees – not the right angle commonly thought to be best. A more open body position helps to maintain the gentle ‘S’ shape necessary to minimise the strain on your spine caused by sitting.
So let your chair back, keep your feet flat on the floor – and try not to slide off the seat!