Is Sitting Bad for You Even if You Exercise?

Is Sitting Bad for You Even if You Exercise?

So, you've been sitting on the dock of the bay. Minding your own business, watching the tide roll away. For 8 hours. And this is OK because you exercise.

Wrong. Well, potentially wrong.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), even if you exercise the dangers of an excessive amount of sitting are still real. Deborah Rohm Young, chair of the AHA panel issuing this advisory, had this to say:

"Regardless of how much physical activity someone gets, prolonged sedentary time could negatively impact the health of your heart and blood vessels. There are many important factors we don't understand about sedentary time yet. The types of studies available identify trends but don't prove cause and effect."

Focus on the key word here: could. Even if you exercise properly, an excessive amount of sitting could contribute to health conditions. We don't know for sure, hence the AHA warning.

Related: Exercise and Mental Health: Using Fitness to Fight Depression and Anxiety

Empty ChairWas the AHA right in issuing a warning when there is no solid science to back this opinion. I say yes. Excess is rarely good in life. We don't need science to tell us this. As the old saying goes,

Everything in moderation. Including moderation.

Eat too much crappy food and your body will likely get sick. Eventually. Even if you exercise. Drink too much alcohol and your body will likely rebel. Eventually. Even if you exercise. Sit too much and... You get the point.

It's common sense. Err on the side of caution and moderation.

Young went on to say,

"There's a lot of research that we need to do," Young said. "This statement is important because it starts the ball rolling and suggests sedentary behavior may play an important role in heart health and more. But, it's too early to make conclusive recommendations other than to encourage Americans to 'sit less, move more.' "

The Dangers of Sitting, and Some Statistics

Now that we've established that too much sitting might be dangerous, the question becomes: What are the dangers? An excessive amount of sitting could potentially contribute to:
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart health
  • Blood vessel health
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Increased risk of death from any condition
"For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking." - Martha Grogan, Mayo Clinic cardiologist
Here are some "sitting statistics" for you to ponder over.
  • We sit an average of 7.7 hours per day. This includes work, home, and our daily commute. [1] This equates to about 55% of our waking hours.
  • Those over the age of 60 spend about 60% of their days in some form of a sedentary position. [1]
  • Men are less sedentary before the age of 30. Men are more sedentary after the age of 60. [1]
  • Women who sit 6 hours or more a day are 94% more likely to die on any given day than those that sit 3 hours or fewer. [2] Men are 48% more likely to die under the same conditions.
  • About 60% of employees believe they would be more productive if they were allowed to stand more. Employers take note: A wandering employee may actually be more productive after stretching his legs. [3]
  • The obese sit for more than 2.5 hours a day than thin people.
  • Between 1980 and 2000 exercise rates remained the same while the occurrence of sitting increased by 8%. Obesity doubled during this time period.
  • After 2 hours of sitting your good cholesterol levels drop by 20%.
  • When in a sedentary position the enzymes that break down fat drop by 90%.
  • In a seated position you only burn one calorie per minute. Walking increases calories burned by 3 to 5 times.
  • If you watch three or more hours of TV per day you are 64% more likely to die from heart disease.
  • If you watch 3 or more hours of TV per day AND exercise, you are just as likely to be obese as those who watch TV and DON'T exercise.

Are You Sitting Too Much?

We've established the dangers of sitting too much. We also understand that exercise may not help much if you are chained to a chair. So what do you do if you have a job that is sedentary in nature?

Dr. Barbara George, a director of the Center for Cardiovascular Lifestyle Medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital, suggests the following:
  • Each half an hour take a 1-3 minute break. Stand up, stretch your legs, and walk around.
  • Watching TV or working at the computer? Take time to stand and exercise.
  • Talking on your cell phone? Walk and talk instead of sitting.
  • Try to deduce the time you are seated each day. Improve little by little.
1) "Amount of Time Spent in Sedentary Behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004." Oxford Journals | Medicine & Health | American Jnl of Epidemiology. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.
2) "Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults." PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.
3) "Three out of Four Full-Time Employees of Large Companies Wish They didn't Spend Most of Their Working Hours Sitting | Ipsos." Ipsos In North America. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.
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jeff gray - January 11, 2019

try to save my sitting for the end of my day, to relax and get ready for bed.

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