How Sitting Can Kill You...and Why It Doesn’t Have to

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Diet and exercise are two top topics of the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) and are probably the two best-known lifestyle behaviors that can improve health. As the Lark DPP check-in mentioned, there is another lifestyle behavior that is gaining increasing attention, and that behavior is sitting.

The concept is simple. Sitting time, or sedentary time, is the time you spend sitting or being sedentary, such as lying on a couch, during waking hours. It may sound innocent enough - after all, being at a desk may be a job requirement, and chilling on an armchair watching TV may feel like a well-deserved break - but sedentary time can be harmful. Here is how sedentary time can hurt and what you can do about it.

 

What Is Wrong with Sedentary Time?


Everyone sits. You may sit in the car, at your job, and at home while relaxing or eating. Those activities sound innocent enough, but it seems as though society has taken them to the extreme. The average American adult spends about 8 hours per day doing nothing, at least physically. That is about half of waking hours[1].

An increasing body of research suggests that this sedentary time can be harmful in many ways[2]. People who sit more are more likely to die early and to develop conditions such as breast, colon, or endometrial cancers, heart disease, or depression.

Perhaps most concerning if you have prediabetes is the link between sedentary time and diabetes risk. Compared to people who sit the least, people who sit the most have 90% increased risk of developing diabetes! That is nearly double.

 

But I Go to the Gym!


That is great - keep it up! That regular exercise habit, whether in or out of the gym, has a wealth of benefits. That is why Lark DPP encourages you to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. That amount of exercise helps with weight control and blood sugar regulation, and is linked to better mood and reduced risk of hypertension and other chronic conditions. Not only that, but people who exercise regularly are less harmed by their sedentary time.

That said, going to the gym does not make up for too much sedentary time. It’s like eating broccoli: it is healthy, but eating broccoli does not mean that you can eat unlimited amounts of chocolate cake. Exercise is healthy, but being a good exerciser does not mean that you can get away with unlimited sedentary time. For best results, keep up the gym and break up your sitting time.

 

How to Break up Sitting Time


  1. Set a timer. While engrossed in work, time can pass quickly. Instead of watching the clock and spending precious brainpower on remembering, setting a timer can ensure that you move regularly enough to lower disease risk. Set the timer to ring once per half-hour, and stretch for 1 to 2 minutes each time it goes off.

  2. Talk to coworkers in person. Instead of chatting, phoning, or emailing coworkers who are in your office, walk over to them to talk in person. Standing up and walking, regardless of how close they are, breaks up sitting time. Plus, it can make the office more productive as more personalized bonds are formed, and conversations held in person can be more detailed than typed conversations.

  3. Take breaks. Walking to the break room for water or coffee and using the bathroom frequently are good ways to force breaks in sedentary time.

  4. Use Lark. Lark can send you push notifications when it detects that you have been sitting for too long. Plus, Lark tracks activity so you can see trends.

  5. Move while working. Sitting on a balance ball desk chair can force core muscles to engage and prevents total immobility, and a standing desk lets you work without sitting. If you get more ambitious, a treadmill desk or pedal pusher under the desk lets you get more active while working.

  6. Move during screen time. Using a stationary bicycle or treadmill while scrolling through social media or watching TV can prevent the hours from passing, unnoticed, while you remain motionless. If you truly just want to veg, try being a couch potato during the show and getting up for some calisthenics during commercials.

As dangerous as sitting can be, it is easy to break it up and prevent its harmful effects. Simple strategies that get you moving for a minute or two at a time throughout the day can keep you healthy along with your other healthy choices.

 

References

  1. Matthews CE, Chen KY, Freedson PS, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;167(7):875–881. doi:10.1093/aje/kwm390

  2. Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, Bajaj RR, Silver MA, Mitchell MS, Alter DA. Sedentary time and Its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132. DOI: 10.7326/M14-1651

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health