It might not surprise you that American adults sit more now than at any other time in history. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased by 83% since 1950. For most people, more than half of a typical day is spent sitting, and many experts claim that this can have an adverse effect on our health. Recent studies have linked prolonged total sedentary time with obesity, diabetes, cancer, back pain, and psychological distress. Dr. Bomi Joseph delves into the details of why sedentary behaviour can be so damaging, and how we avoid it.
Dr. Bomi Joseph is the Director of Peak Health Center, and promotes the concept of ‘endohealth’, or ‘health from within’. He points out that degeneration of the body accounts for 86% of all diseases today and explains that pharmaceutical drugs only lead to long-term issues. He believes that the most effective way to maintain health is through self-discipline, which he also champions as “self-love.” Dr. Joseph knows how important it is to get your body moving and looks back into human history to get some perspective.
Whether we were tending our crops or hunting wild boars, most of our lives as human beings have been lived on our feet. Our bodies have been designed with abundant energy and a natural capacity for explosive movements. If you take children as an example, their energy is abundant. Humans have very limber tissue when they are young, but the industrial revolution has moved us away from nature and motion; cars, labor-saving gadgets and devices are all making us stagnate. These conveniences are making us inactive, and it is not age that does us in, it is too much inactive time, time without motion. Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that sitting for too long decays our neuromuscular tissue (NMT) – the tissue that lies in between our muscles and tendons. The NMT is the second most “expensive” tissue in the body to maintain—the brain is number one. So, with our NMT, we must “use it or lose it.”
Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
NMT aside, what does live a sedentary lifestyle mean? It can either mean insufficient physical activity or excessive sitting. It is an energy expenditure of less than or equal to 1.5 metabolic equivalents while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture. By this definition, sedentary behaviour includes any seated activity, including computer work, watching television, or even driving in a car. The average person spends roughly 8-10 hours sitting, which, for some, is more time than is slept in a night.
An estimated two-thirds of adults fail to obtain adequate exercise, which makes physical inactivity a health risk that pertains to a large portion of the American population. Here is the kicker: according to new research, Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that even if we meet physical activity guidelines, the benefits of such exercise could be ‘undone’ if the rest of our waking hours are spent sitting down. To dive further in, consider a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine headed by Keith M. Diaz.
Researchers looked at 47 studies examining the relationship between sitting and mortality. They found that people who sit for long periods were 24 percent more likely to die from health problems during the studies (which last between 1 and 16 years), compared with people who sat less. The 47 studies did not have a standard cut-off to define how much sitting is too much, but the study’s lead researcher explained that if you sit more than eight hours a day, it is linked to negative health effects. Researchers also found that excessive sitting was associated with an 18 percent increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and a 17 percent increased risk of dying from cancer during study periods. Sitting for too long was also tied to a 91 percent increased risk of getting Diabetes Type 2. This study, and studies like it, highlight the importance of daily movement, as it can negatively impact your entire body.
Sitting for too long affects your body in various different ways. The more a person sits, the thinner regions of the brain associated with memory tend to be. Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that our brains need a constant supply of blood and oxygen to function properly but sitting for long periods can cause our blood circulation to slow, along with our brain function. A slowing of blood circulation also has adverse affects on your legs, which, after long periods of time not moving, causes everything from swollen legs to varicose veins to the more problematic deep vein thrombosis. Poor posture while sitting can also compress spinal disks, often leading to chronic back pain and worse. Because spines that are inactive become inflexible, they are also more likely to get injured doing minimal tasks.
A Step in the Right Direction
There are a few things you can do to get yourself moving, whether you are a retired athlete or work at a sedentary job. The first is to take every opportunity you get to stand up. As a culture, most of our business and social affairs take place in a seated position, so whenever possible, find ways to turn them into walking meetings. When you are one-on-one, try suggesting a walk, and if it is a phone meeting, force yourself to stand up throughout your call—talking has also been known to help your ideas flow.
Another thing you can do is actively find ways to exercise. It is most of our first instincts to find the closest parking to the grocery store, or use an escalator instead of the stairs, but think of these as opportunities for movement. Whenever there is a choice: walk. This may seem like a novice idea, but you would be surprised at how many calories this ends up being at the end of the day. Another key tip is to get off a stop before the one closest to your home if you are taking public transit, it will force you to take some additional steps and take in the local scenery.