The recent controversy connecting sitting jobs to cardiovascular disease has been interesting. I first became aware of this issue (and immediately changed my sitting habits) after reading a Men’s Health article entitled, Is Your Office Chair Killing You? The New York Times also opened an article with, “Your chair is your enemy,” in its article, Stand Up While You Read This!
We all know that poor eating and exercise is bad for the heart. But could sitting all day really be a risk factor for heart disease, independent of your daily workouts?
Because most of us spend a lot of time sitting – at work, in class, riding in the car, watching TV, surfing the web, eating meals, even hanging with friends at Starbucks – the answer can be quite relevant.
Studies Say Exercise May Not Offset Risks of Sedentary Jobs
Studies have found that daily work outs may not put you on your feet long enough to offset the negative effects of sitting all day. This is because people tend to segment their fitness into isolated workouts (e.g., a morning jog, a mid-day work-out), rather than planning activities throughout the day, such as simply standing. People with less sedentary jobs (e.g., retail sales persons) were found to have a much lower risk of heart disease – even if they didn’t exercise – just because of the substantial time spent on their feet.
In fact, a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, concluded that people who sit for most of the day were 54% more likely to die of an early heart attack. The study was performed by scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, an obesity research center, who analyzed the lifestyles of more than 17,013 Canadian men and women between the ages of 19 and 90 over a thirteen year period.
Why is Sitting Believed to be a Problem?
Sitting is one of the most passive activities that we do. Compared to sitting, standing is a lot of work – requiring more energy and burning more calories.
But the more interesting discovery by Pennington is that sitting reduces your levels of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme that breaks down fat in the bloodstream to use as energy. Pennington compared lab rats that stood most of the day to lab rats that were forced to lay down, and found the standing rats had 10 times higher levels of LPL. Without LPL, fat ends up being stored instead of burned, leading to health problems including heart disease.
Can the Anti-Sitting Literature be Believed?
In his article Sitting Won’t Kill You, Except on Train Tracks, Albert Fuchs, MD FACP, questioned the rash of articles written about the perils of sitting. He called the NY Times article “an interesting jumble of good science and unfounded conclusions”, stating “if your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are normal and you exercise regularly, there is nothing in the articles that should convince us that sitting in your chair is bad for you.” He also faulted the Pennington study for being non-randomized.
Dr. Fuchs did point out what he called “the good common sense suggestions” associated with these articles. For example, each time you get out of your chair you are burning more calories, and every calorie burned is a good thing.
Tips to Increase the Time on Your Feet
Whether or not you believe the association between extended time in a chair and the health of your heart, the benefits of increasing time on your feet are worth considering. Here are some tips that you may find easy to work into your daily routine:
- Drink lots of water. This will regularly get you out of your chair for visits to the water-cooler and the restroom.
- Stand while reading emails and when on the phone – if your environment allows. Also stand when meeting with co-workers.
- Consider using a pedometer to motivate additional steps during the day.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park at a distance from your destination, rather than jockeying for the closest spot.
- Use a standup desk or adjustable computer stand. Desktops in most cubicle environments can easily be raised to accommodate standing.
Since reading these ominous articles on sitting, I’ve made it a point to stand when talking to coworkers or on the phone. For me, that easily adds 20-40 minutes per day on my feet. I’ve also considered a standup desk – but am still assessing whether this will impact productivity at work. Has anyone tried this?
If you have additional tips or thoughts, please leave us a comment!
Source of Information:
- Too Much Sitting is Hazardous to Your Health?, unm.edu
- Is Your Office Chair Killing You?, MensHealth.com
- Stand Up While You Read This!, NYTimes.com
- Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, NCBI.gov
- Sitting Won’t Kill You, Except on Train Tracks, Dr. Albert Fuchs
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