Studies that show the negative effects of sitting for extended periods of time are still fairly new, but the evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can shorten your life span is significant and mounting.
A 2012 paper in the journal Diabetes Research And Clinical Practices points out that excessive time spent sitting is a relatively modern problem:
“In contemporary society, prolonged sitting has been engineered into our lives across many settings, including transportation, the workplace, and the home. There is new evidence that too much sitting (also known as sedentary behaviour – which involves very low energy expenditure, such as television viewing and desk-bound work) is adversely associated with health outcomes, including cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers, type 2 diabetes, and premature mortality.”(1)
An Expensive Problem
In 2014, a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine examined the healthcare costs associated with sedentary lifestyles, specifically in middle-aged Australian women. They found that the healthcare costs incurred by “highly inactive” participants were hundreds of dollars higher than those of more active participants.
The study concluded that, “physical inactivity… was associated with higher health-related costs in middle-aged women.”(2)
Explaining The Issue
In an attempt to explain the health impacts of prolonged sitting to laypersons who may not be familiar with medical jargon, the news show 60 Minutes recently commissioned a short video which lays out the effects that a sedentary lifestyle can have on your body(3).
Animator Duncan Elms used the 1-minute video to briefly outline the research done to date on the effects of excessive sitting, in an attempt to explain why such a simple activity (or lack thereof) can trigger such serious problems.
The video shows, through simple 3D animation, that long-term sitting is associated not only with the usual suspects of lower back pain and weight gain, but also blood clots, type 2 diabetes, and cardio-vascular disease (people with jobs that require them to sit for extended periods of time at a desk, for example, are twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with active jobs, the video explains).
A Public Health Approach
Given the growing prominence of jobs that require long stretches of sitting, as well as leisure activities that involve sitting – not just watching TV, but also driving, writing, and browsing the internet, to name a few – many doctors and researchers are pushing for a more public health-minded approach to getting people out of their seats and into more active lifestyles.
“Practical and policy approaches to addressing too much sitting as a population-health issue would involve innovations on multiple levels,” writes one team of researchers in the journal Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews(4).
“For example, public information campaigns might emphasize reducing sitting time as well as increasing physical activity. There might be more widespread use of innovative technologies that can provide more opportunities to reduce sitting time (for example, height-adjustable desks) or new regulations in workplaces to reduce or break-up extended periods of job-related sitting.”
If You Work in an Office, Make Your Own Stand Up Desk
Make sure you also equip your office with a barstool so that you can switch between sitting and standing anytime you want.