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5 Scary Things That Happen When You Sit All Day — And How to Counteract Them
Hard to admit, but easy to believe: eight in 10 Americans spend nearly every single minute of their workday sitting behind a desk, according to research published in the journal . Yikes.
But "the problems are not with sitting itself, but with passively sitting," says Mark Schneider, a personal trainer at Movement Minneapolis. "Sitting is easy. If it took effort, fewer people would do it. Because of its ease, it's common to do it to excess — and anything done to excess will be detrimental."
As a result, people are burning around 120 to 140 fewer calories per workday than they did in 1960, resulting in a slow creep of weight gain. (This could tally up to about a nine-pound-a-year margin you'll need to burn off.) Even scarier than the scale impact? The health impact. By sitting all day, you're subjecting your body to a whole lot of bad.
1. You Can Say Goodbye to Good Cholesterol After Just 2 Hours of Sitting
Just like a light switch, electrical activity flips off the moment your butt hits the chair. "Calorie burning is significantly reduced and lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that assists with the breakdown of fat, dramatically and rapidly drops," says Dominique Wakefield, a Michigan-based health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). That enzyme also plays a role in changing low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) to high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol). Sitting for eight or more hours a day — a pretty standard amount of time for people who work desk jobs! — decreases the enzyme's ability to convert bad to good by 95 percent, scientists at The Ohio State University have found.
2. Your Muscles Will Ache — Like, All the Time
Tune in to how you're sitting as you read this paragraph. Wait! Don't move a muscle quite yet. Just sit still. Ask yourself: How does the seat feel? How is your head angled and where are your feet placed? How do the arm rests impact your arm alignment?
"The lack of attention to these things is what causes the problem. Sitting well, so it has minimal negative effects on you, is a skill. And like any skill it will take some effort to learn, but eventually will become habitual," Schneider says.
Be mindful of your posture and adjust alignment as needed, says Jessica Matthews, a personal training expert for ACE who's based in San Diego. "While standing, your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle should form a straight line with the spine in an 'S' shape, due to its natural curvature. This also applies while in a seated position, except that the ear, shoulder, and hip should align, and the knee and ankle should align."
Until you master pro-level sitting, expect tight hip muscles, increased back and neck pain, and possible breathing difficulties, since the rounded shoulder, tucked chin posture decreases the ability of your ribs to expand, Schneider says.
3. You're 2 ½ Times More Likely to Struggle With Obesity
As mentioned above, while sitting, your calorie-burning potential crawls slower than the wait for the next season ofGame of Thrones. In fact, ACE reports you're more than twice as likely to be obese if you sit for six hours per day compared to just 30 minutes per day. Surprisingly, sitting too much is twice as dangerous for your wellbeing as being obese, says a study published inThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
4. Your Risk for Cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease Will Climb
Beyond making you gain extra pounds, being too stationary can do a number on your longevity. "Sitting increases risk of death up to 40 percent. Inactivity is killing people and is arguably one of this generation's greatest health threats," Wakefield says. Cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease risks are more stark when overall physical activity levels are low, too, according to a review in theAnnals of Internal Medicine.
5. Your Overall Mortality Risk Jumps
Nearly four percent of all deaths can be traced back to sitting too much, says a study in theAmerican Journal of Preventative Medicine. ACE adds a surprising stat: Sitting less than three hours a day can add two years to your life. On the flip side, sitting for more than six hours and racking up a limited amount of exercise can raise overall risk of death by 94 percent.
Fortunately, You're Not Entirely Screwed If You Have a Desk Job...
Standing up at regular intervalscancut disease risk. "Be sure to frequently adjust your position while sitting for long periods of time to help prevent slouching and other poor postures. Taking a few minutes periodically to get up from your desk and walk around is so beneficial," Matthews says. Schneider recommends aiming for a total of 10,000-13,000 steps per day.
"Our bodies were not meant to sit and be still all day long. Get up every hour. Move your body however you see fit, and stretch twice a day to bring strength to the surrounding muscles and hip joints," says Stephanie Thielen, a personal training expert for ACE.
Also, be sure to get your workout in — this flexibility and strength workout can also balance out the areas that are weakened by super-sized amounts of sitting.
"Judge timing based on your mental ability to focus, about every 45-75 minutes. This will likely be a natural break in your ability to focus and a great time to move around without negatively affecting your work. You might see an increase in productivity, actually," Schneider says.
If you need an extra nudge, set a timer and take a lap around the building each time the alarm rings. Start a competition with co-workers to see who can outstep the rest to stick with the program.
Stretching, standing, and walking can't cure all, though.
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