Get Up, Stand Up: The Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle
Do you sit for long stretches of time? If so, your health will suffer. Sitting for interminable stretches of time is detrimental to your health for many reasons. Yet, these days, most of us are guilty of doing it, especially if we have desk jobs or work from a computer. But because the sedentary health risks are growing, we all need to make a strong commitment to getting off our bums. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, why it’s not in our DNA to sit still, and what we can do about it. If this sounds like a message you need to hear, make yourself a cup of tea, and give this article your undivided attention.
We were never designed as humans to sit for long periods of time
Think of your ancestors. Did they sit behind desks or on couches staring at screens until all hours of the night? No. They were out hunting, gathering, walking, etc. Sure, they had rest times, but they certainly didn’t have planes, trains, automobiles, chairs, computers—you get my point. If you look at the big picture of history, humans never led sedentary lives. It’s not in our DNA. The modern life we know today is a mere blink in the history of the world. Our ancestors moved all the time, and it’s what we human mammals were meant to do. So, let’s not let our modern ways get in the way of our DNA. We were designed to move—plain and simple.
The benefits of standing
When we compare sitting and standing, standing is way better for you. The mere act of standing is good for our organs. When you’re standing, your blood actually pumps better than when you’re sitting, which positively impacts the entire system. Your body’s powers of elimination also work better when you’re standing up. And then there’s the whole spinal health piece of the puzzle. Your posture and the health of your spine benefits from standing, but not from sitting. Next time you sit at your computer or on your couch to watch television, notice how much you’re prone to slumping. We all do it. Then notice how much longer your spine is and how much better your posture is when you stand.
A sedentary lifestyle inevitably leads to weight gain
You might workout for an hour every day, but if all other hours of your day are spent sitting, you’re gonna gain weight. Leading a sedentary life is going to make it really hard to lose weight. And if you have weight you need to lose, you need to pay attention, because being overweight is associated with too many diseases. Heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and depression are too often the result of holding on to excess weight. The extra fat can’t help but accumulate in your body when you sit all day long, and then sleeping at night.
Your muscles lose their mass when you don’t move them
Your bones and muscles depend on you to move. If you sit still too long, eventually those body parts will lose their life, becoming brittle and lacking in tone and mass. If you want to age like a champion, you need to take care of those muscles and bones, which means working them often. Practically anything but sitting still is good for them. But, you’ll also want to focus on building strength through weight training and building your muscles through strength training, as well as cardiovascular exercise. If you fail to do this, and allow your muscles to atrophy, you’re more apt to experience strains and injuries. And the older you get, you may even have difficulty walking. Falling and having serious injuries from falls becomes more of a problem, and your overall quality of life suffers.
Your mental health requires movement
When you think about it, this makes common sense, too. Think about how much better you feel when you’ve been exercising and moving on a regular basis. Now consider how depressing it is to sit on the couch watching TV all day. Science says that leading a largely sedentary lifestyle will lead to a greater risk of anxiety, depression, and even cognitive decline. That’s right, you need to stop sitting all day if you want to be smart. Exercise triggers the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. It’s a known fact that we’re happier people when we get off our tush. Now, that’s motivation to move if I ever heard one!
The health of your spine needs you to sit less
A healthy spine is the cornerstone of optimal health. That’s what the ancient yogis believed, and there’s definitely something to it. You need to move your spine in all directions and maintain its suppleness and length. Sitting does the opposite. It causes us to slump, hunch over, and compress our vertebrae. But, when you stand, it’s so much more natural to maintain your good posture and the length of your neck and spine. So, get up, stand up! And bend backwards, forwards, and to the sides. Do like the yogis and work that spine!
Fatal diseases linked to sedentary lifestyle
Did you know that sitting too long actually increases your risk of getting the dreaded age-related diseases of modern life? And now, there are even studies to prove it. This 2010 study, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, finds evidence of the many health risks associated with sedentary behavior. Turns out, sitting may indeed be the new smoking.
Premature death linked to sedentary lifestyle
A sedentary lifestyle may lead to premature death. That’s what this study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests. The researchers came to the conclusion, after studying 17,000 Canadians, that long periods of sitting need to be totally eliminated from one’s life, because there was a direct link between premature death from all causes, and a sedentary way of living.
And if you think about it, it makes sense. Centenarians (people who live to be 100) studied the world over have very active lifestyles. Many of them walk long distances, grow their own food in their garden, and bike wherever they need to go. My guess is that their time spent indoors, and in cars, trains, and planes, are quite limited. Centenarians around the world tend to live close to the land, planting trees, chopping, wood, and living an all-around more ancient way of life. This is something to think about as you consider how long you hope to live.
You increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by being sedentary
Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic in today’s world. And while a poor diet is the biggest culprit, studies have also found that sitting for too long also puts you at risk. This study found that women who sat for eight hours each day were at a high risk for developing type 2 diabetes—56% higher than their more active peers. So, pay close attention to how much you sit each day. Take appropriate measures to prevent this awful disease.
Your circulation slows the more you sit
This 2015 study, published in the journal Experimental Physiology found that children spend an average of 60% of their days sitting down. Researchers wanted to know how this impacted their health, namely the circulatory system. What they found was nothing short of troubling—three hours straight of sitting decreased vascular function in young girls by a whopping 33%. On the other hand, standing up, even periodically, increases vascular function quite a bit. That said, make sure you never sit for prolonged periods. Even on an airplane, you need to get up and walk around.
You’re likely to put on the pounds
Being overweight is something we want to avoid at all costs. And of course it stands to reason that the less we move, the easier it’s going to be to pack on the pounds. Weight gain is a part of leading a sedentary life and the ways of living and working in our modern world makes us gain weight. We use our cars to get from place to place. We sit long hours behind a computer. then drive home, and veg on the couch, with little or no energy to make a healthy meal. This lifestyle inevitably packs on the pounds. And we need to change that.
Simple and creative solutions for leading a more active lifestyle
Now that we’ve seen the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, let’s take a good look at some creative ways we can stand more, move more, and sit less. Even though the modern world requires so much sitting—in planes, trains, automobiles, and the like—there’s so much we can do to counter the modern approach to movement, (or lack thereof). You don’t have to change your ways and do everything on this list, but do begin to integrate one or two into your daily routine.
- Instead of sitting at a desk, stand at a desk. Standing desks are all the rage now. And if you don’t want to invest in one, or simply can’t, try standing with your computer on a high table or counter top.
- When parking in a parking lot, park as far away as possible and enjoy the extra walk to your destination.
- Just leave the car at home, and walk or bike instead.
- Instead of taking an elevator or escalator in the shopping mall or in an office building, take the stairs instead. Work those glutes while doing your errands, rather than just standing still.
- While at your workplace, take little breaks throughout the day. Stand up at your desk and stretch. Take a nice walk somewhere to have a picnic lunch during your lunch break. Get outside, and get some fresh air, rather than spending the entire day cooped up.
- Plan an early morning walk with a friend, family member, or colleague. Getting outside first thing in the morning helps you sleep better at night by aligning your internal circadian rhythm with that of the earth’s.
- Anytime you can, ride a bike or walk, rather than driving in a car.
- Every day dedicate a special time to some kind of movement you really love.
- Whatever you do, don’t watch television all evening. Walk around your house. Go for an after dinner stroll—anything but sitting on the couch.
- While you’re cleaning and cooking, do little weight training exercises like leg lifts and squats.
- Always have a set of free weights beside your favorite couch or easy chair. Lift them during commercial breaks while watching your favorite show.
- Roll out your yoga mat, and stretch or do some yoga asana while watching TV.
- Go out with your friends and go dancing. When’s the last time you did that?
We can all be more mindful about our sitting habits. It’s all about awareness. So, begin to pay conscious attention to yourself when you sit. Notice how long you sit, and then make little tweaks in your habits. You could even keep an activity journal or get one of those step-counting devices. Make a concerted effort to stand up whenever you find yourself sitting for extended periods of time. Pay close attention to your posture as well. This will no doubt help you sit taller, and stand up and stand tall when you find yourself hunched over.
Be kind to yourself and have compassion for the little changes you’re making
As you make these gradual changes in your sedentary habits, have compassion for yourself. We’ve formed our habits over a lifetime, and it takes real time and effort to change. It won’t happen overnight. Be grateful to yourself that you’re actually making the conscientious effort to become healthier. And as you do, you’re also setting a good example for those around you—your friends, spouse, children, work colleagues, etc. That in and of itself is pretty amazing. So be kind to yourself, and go slow. Your health will thank you now, and later.