Sitting Disease is slowly killing us all. And it’s fast becoming one of the more nefarious factors affecting our lifespan. Sitting disease is a more recent term coined by scientists that refers to the negative cardiometabolic effects that arise from prolonged sedentary behaviour. Considering the average person these days sits down for 7-8 hours per day, it’s no wonder that this prolonged period of non movement is a factor in the development of more serious chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic problems. Over the last couple of years, research has built up steadily and the message is clear; if you want to dip your foot into an early grave, just keep sitting.
While the exact reason why prolonged sitting results in a higher risk of death is not known, there is evidence to suggest that the increased mortality risk is multifactorial. That is, prolonged sitting changes a number of physiological and behavioural actions, which impacts negatively on health leading to death. These include increase blood pressure, impaired glucose and insulin responses and increase snacking just to name a few.
What’s even more frightening is that meeting your exercise requirements might not even help. In a recent study by Younger et al (2015), young, healthy participants were examined during 5 hours of prolonged sitting with and without 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Unfortunately, those 30 minutes of exercise wasn’t able to stop or reduce the negative effects of prolonged sitting. This further supports comments that meeting previous recommendations for 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week is just NOT enough.
It might seem bleak, but there’s still plenty you can do to avoid the negative consequences of prolonged sitting. One of the best things you can do is to break up your sitting periods with regular breaks. While the research is still in its infancy as to the ideal break to sit ratio, some studies have suggested a 2 minute break every 20 minutes, but if this is hard, aim for 10 minutes every 4 hours. A break doesn’t mean standing though, it means actual motion, and the higher the intensity the better. So go on, go for a walk and live longer.1. Younger AM, Pettitt RW, Sexton PJ, Maass WJ, Pettitt CD. ‘Acute moderate exercise does not attenuate cardiometabolic function associated with a bout of prolonged sitting.’ J Sports Sci. 2015 Jul 17:1-6.
2. Latouche C, Jowett JB, Carey AL, Bertovic DA, Owen N, Dunstan DW, Kingwell BA. ‘Effects of breaking up prolonged sitting on skeletal muscle gene expression.’ J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 Feb 15;114(4):453-60.
3. Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. ‘Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior.’ Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010 Jul;38(3):105-13.