Does frequent, prolonged sitting matter if you’re fit? And what’s worse: Sitting for hours on end at work or sitting at home?
Sedentary lifestyles have long been linked to increased risks of obesity, high blood pressure, excess body fat, high cholesterol and more. It’s no surprise that prolonged periods of sitting contribute to an overall more sedentary lifestyle for many. And it’s been quite the hot topic of late. You may have noticed your co-worker has installed a standing desk, or your friends have set timers to ensure they’re getting up to stretch or walk. It seems the more sitting is studied, the more we learn about the dangers of it.
A new study from the University of Columbia takes an even more granular approach to the dangers of sitting. This study has determined exactly which types of sitting are worst and whether or not fit people need to worry about how often they sit.
What’s Worse: Sitting at Work or Sitting at Home?
You sit at work. When you come home from work, if you’re like most Americans, you sit down to eat your meal and then turn on the TV. Did you know that sedentary individuals who watch four or more hours of TV per day have a 50% greater risk of heart disease than those who watch TV for two or fewer hours? You’d think that sitting at work would have the same deleterious effects, but it doesn’t.
Oddly enough, the Columbia University study found that workplace sitting is considerably less damaging than at-home sitting. And it’s not associated with risk of heart attack or stroke. This might be because at work, you’re likely to get up more frequently to visit a coworker or refresh your water bottle. At home, there’s a higher likelihood that you’re stationed in front of the TV to watch your favorite shows in the evening without getting up. Evening TV viewers are likely to watch TV after eating their largest meal of the day. They may also be mindlessly snacking while catching up on their favorite shows. Both behaviors have an adverse effect on overall health.
Does It Matter How Much You Sit if You’re Fit?
An analysis of multiple studies on sitting found that engaging in 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every day countered the negative effects of sitting. It’s also notable the amount of time spent sitting had little effect on the individuals who devoted time to physical activity. The verdict on how much physical activity is needed seems to be out: The Columbia study suggests 30 minutes, 5 days a week of moderate physical activity is enough to counter the effects of sitting. This applies even if you are one of the many Americans who consume four-plus hours of television per day. Alternatively, those who are not physically active and sit for more than eight hours face the same health risks as the risks posed by obesity and smoking.
Take a Stand! How to Lessen the Detrimental Effects of Sitting
Set a Timer
If you think you might be more sedentary than you should, fear not. You can start taking simple steps today to counter the negative effects of sitting. Set a timer on your phone or smartwatch to encourage you to get up every 30 minutes. No, you don’t need to sprint around the office, just stand up, stretch, breathe deeply and pat yourself on the back for taking steps to become a healthier you.
Take a Break from TV
If you’re anything like my husband, you can’t stand it when your partner gets up to make a snack, get a glass of water or ‘take a break’ during the middle of a TV show. Little does he know when I engage in this ‘terribly annoying habit’ I’m actually decreasing the likelihood that sitting will take a toll on me. As mentioned earlier, when you’re at work, you’re more likely to get up throughout the day than you are when you’re at home in the evening binge-watching [insert the name of your favorite Netflix shoe here]. Perhaps it’s time to try my technique? Take a breather between episodes and stretch, get a glass of water or wash the dishes already.
As mentioned, moderate exercise for 30-60 minutes a day can negate the negative effects of sitting. So if you’re exercising daily, good for you! If not, now’s the time to start. Even a half hour walk every day can make a difference.
Author bio: Sam Kerstetter enjoys stroller running and spending time in nature with her husband and daughter. Her other passions include social media (she’s the social media manager at Road Runner Sports) and content marketing. Follow her on Twitter at @SamKerstetter.
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