Buddhists, The Thinker and a fun ad for a nature chair a few years ago read, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” That is good advice for meditation and viewing nature, but it turns out that too much chair time is a health hazard itself. Prolonged physical inactivity, such as sitting, appears incompatible with true physical health. Blissful brains and bodies, it seems, should not sit for too long.
The modern workplace is a hazardous environment from the standpoint of discouraging physical activity. Most white collar worker are anchored to desk, computer and office chair. Electronic connectivity circumvents much need to physically move. Your body, however, has a physical need to move. We evolved as walking, running, moving beings. The modern environment can result in short movements from chair to chair to another chair, then to bed. This lifestyle is toxic in bypassing the needed effects of physical activity and movement. It is also obesogenic, fattening, especially when combined with an environment studded with cheap, calorie-dense foods. As it turns out, we have to earn the right to sit down, and pay for it with physical activity.
Even for people who exercise regularly it appears that prolonged sitting remains a health hazard. Apparently, jogging for an hour after work is not enough. To be healthy we must frequently step away from the chair and move. Recent Swedish research affirms that failure to get up out of the chair frequently enough can contribute to a host of modern maladies. Sitting in place, especially for over 4 hours, seems to upset the body’s metabolism. Control of fats and glucose is upset, predisposing one to such maladies as metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Remarkably, Australian researchers recently reported an 11% increase in deaths for each daily hour of sit down time in front of the television!. Heart disease risks increased nearly 20% for each TV hour per day, a finding independent of other health habits.
When sleeping, a 160 pound office worker burns about 1 calorie each minute, 60 calories per hour, or less than 500 during an 8 hour night’s sleep. This is not much less than the 1.2 calories per minute spent by the same person while sitting and reading, only about 72 calories per hour. Light office work is not much more, less than 2 calories per minute. The seated worker burns less than 1,000 calories over an 8 hour work day.
The perfect antidote to prolonged sitting is walking. Avoiding over-long periods of sitting by interspersing short walks is a solution available to most seated workers. It takes only seconds to get up and begin walking. Immediately the body gains huge benefits. Blood circulation, made sluggish by sitting, immediately speeds up as your heart begins to accommodate the new demands caused by standing up and walking. The heart speeds up, flushing blood through your system, more air pulses into your lungs to oxygenate the coursing blood.
Walking quickly, a 160 pound office worker now quickly triples the rate his or her body burns calories, to six calories per minute. Breaking into a run, at a 10 minute per mile pace of 6 miles per hour, the jogger can double again calories burned per minute to 12! That’s is a calorie burned each 5 seconds. Alternatively, if you have access to stairs, taking a few quick flights up and down can quickly counteract the ill health effects of too much sitting.
At the workplace, until a just a few years ago, the cigarette break was viewed as a reasonable activity. In 2010, the cessation of work for the purpose of inhaling poisons is less common. Surely the “walking break” or “stair-climbing” break can now be seen as an important activity that not only invigorates employees, as well as reducing their health care costs. Avoiding maladies caused by excess sitting is basic to the open-source health and wellness model. So don’t just sit there, for too long at least.