The need to get off the couch

New research that shows that sitting too much can negate the health benefits of regular exercise.

In today’s automated, computer oriented world, most of us sit behind a desk at work, sit in a car getting to and from work and then sit on a couch because we’re tired after work.

We’ve known for quite a while that too much sitting in any form is bad for us, but there is new research that shows that even if you exercise for an hour a day, three days a week, that sitting too much can negate the health benefits of regular exercise.

A study published last year in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity showed that even if you are getting lots of regular exercise, sitting too much may still put you at risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a variety of other conditions.

Most regular exercisers sit just as much as ‘couch-potatoes’ for the rest of their day and that’s a big problem.

The researchers found that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours slow walking, whether they exercised the recommended three days a week or not.

The American Journal of Epidemiology also reports that sitting for more than six hours a day increases your risk of dying from heart disease by eighteen percent and increases your chance of dying from diabetes by eight percent compared with someone who sits for three hours or less a day.

Another study of over 3,000 women found that for every two hours they sat in a given work day, their risk for developing diabetes went up seven percent, which means their risk is 56 percent higher on days they sit for eight hours.

And still another study of more than 17,000 Canadians over 12 years, researchers found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died, regardless of age, body weight, or how much they exercised.

Regular exercise does much good for you, but if you spend the rest of your waking hours sitting, those health benefits depreciate. Another reason to avoid sitting is for back health. Sitting is just not good for your back. Throughout the day our back muscles become tired from supporting us in an upright, “neutral” spine position, so we tend to slouch forward putting a constant posterior strain on the discs, ligaments and muscles and risking a cumulative strain injury.

Back pain is reported equally among those who work physically and those who sit at work. Recent proposals by ergonomists have suggested that static sitting be limited to 50 minutes at a time, and less for those who currently have back problems.

Here are some tips to help people who need to sit for long periods.

Try to change postures, get up out of the chair and take stretch breaks once an hour during the day.

For those who must stay at one work-station throughout the day, see if you can stand to retrieve an item at your station instead of rolling your chair over to get it and try to stand when answering the phone or when greeting customers.

On lunch and coffee breaks, go out for a walk.

And when you get home, avoid sitting on the couch for rest and try to find active pastimes to engage in.

Even the physical act of standing may off-set some of the ill effects of sitting. There is a growing movement by ergonomists and employers for work-stations to be changed from a sitting desk to an adjustable work-station where you can raise the height of the desk into a standing position.

The lesson here is to get up and get moving as much as possible, at work and at home.


Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology.

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