- Sitting all day can negatively affect health in various ways, including increasing your risk for colon, lung, and endometrial cancer.
- Sitting and its harmful health consequences apply even to desk workers who sit down most of the day without getting up for some movement each hour or so, but also regularly exercise.
- The solution is to have intervals throughout the day where, for short periods, you do the opposite of what your job requires – moving or sitting.
Most Americans sit for the vast majority of their day, and this is because most jobs American workers sit at work – the prime example being desk jobs.
Sitting all day can negatively affect health in various ways, including increasing your risk for colon, lung, and endometrial cancer. Indeed, your body can undergo rather radical changes from sitting for too long over a long period.
For example, your body will produce less lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that removes fat from your blood and maintains healthy blood cholesterol levels.
Reduced levels of lipoprotein lipase can lead to high blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and atherosclerosis (i.e., clogged arteries), thus increasing the likelihood of heart disease or attack.
Additionally, sitting for extended periods reduces your insulin sensitivity, increasing the likelihood of developing diabetes, along with weight gain and other metabolic issues.
Sitting for too long has intrinsic negative health consequences
In each case, researchers say this is not for lack of exercise. On the contrary, sitting and its harmful health consequences apply even to desk workers who regularly exercise and sit down most of the day without getting up for some movement each hour or so.
Too much sitting might diminish the benefits of regular exercise. Athletes who sit for too long each day are just as susceptible to these adverse health effects as others.
That is to say, the negative health consequences of sitting down for too long each day are intrinsic to that activity, not a product of poor overall fitness. For example, one study showed that sitting all day for several days diminished the health benefits of a one-hour run.
In turn, you cannot simply do more exercise at the gym to make up for long periods of sitting. Even if you are willing to commit to several hours each day, doing too many exercises is itself damaging up to a point. Health is all about balance, not excess or deficit.
How long is too long? Research suggests roughly 6 to 8+ hours of sitting without intervals of rest each day is too much sitting.
If you cannot make up for sitting all day with extra work in the gym, how can you make up for it?
How to diminish the negative
The key to the research on sitting for too long is the caveat of “intervals.” That means if you sit all day with no breaks almost every day, you are doing a profound disservice to your health. Thus, the solution here is simple.
Breaking the cycle of sitting all day is what will offset its consequences.
Each hour, get up and move around in some way for a few minutes. Whether this is calisthenics like pushups or simply going on a short walk, easy and short-lived bodily movement each hour is what offsets the negative health implications of too much sitting.
Standing all day is not the solution because it has health consequences. Research suggests that standing without a break all day is highly associated with poor posture, back pain, varicose veins, and poor leg circulation.
Hence, for workers standing up almost all day, taking breaks each hour to sit can have tremendous health benefits, reducing the likelihood of these harmful health implications.
What seems to be the best for your health is alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day. If your job requires mostly sitting, taking the time to stand and move a little each hour is beneficial, whereas with standing jobs taking a little time to sit each hour is beneficial.
Management teams should take note of the cause of adverse health effects and this solution when they see workers getting up or sitting down each hour. These are excellent reasons to take a tiny break to move or sit frequently.
Sitting all day is not suitable for your health. Even if you are an avidly fit person, too much sitting can disrupt your metabolic health and, therefore, your overall well-being. Standing all day is also bad for your back and vascular health.
The solution is to have intervals throughout the day where, for short periods, you do the opposite of what your job requires – moving or sitting. For example, if you stand all day, sit each hour for 10 or 20 minutes, and if you sit all day, move in some way for 10 to 20 minutes each hour.