Staying Fit if You Sit
By: Brian Sutton, MS, MA, NASM-CPT, CES, PES
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that chronic diseases were responsible for five of the six leading causes of death in the United States in 2006 (1). Not surprisingly, chronic diseases have become the leading cause of death and disability, accounting for 70% of deaths in the United States. Chronic disease includes heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Sedentary living (sitting for extended periods) and poor lifestyle choices are the primary cause for the rapid increase in chronic disease. However, most chronic diseases are preventable and manageable through early detection, treatment, and healthy living. In fact, nearly 80% of all deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer are preventable if people choose to follow a healthy lifestyle (2).
Dangers of Sitting
The dangers of sitting are substantial. Sedentary individuals are at increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. According to research, men who sit more than six hours per day are 18% more likely to die from chronic disease versus men who only sit three hours per day (3). Women who sit more than six hours per day are 37% more likely to die versus women who only sit three hours per day (3). The dangers of sedentary living are real and should not be ignored.
Physical inactivity is one of the primary causes of muscular dysfunction, and research suggests that muscular aches and pains are more common now than 40 years ago (4). Labor saving devices and technology such as cars and computers has replaced the need for physical exertion. This lack of movement causes the body to become deconditioned and more susceptible to injury. Lack of physical activity and increased time sitting may lead to low-back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries such as shoulder and neck pain.
Low-back pain affects nearly 80 percent of all adults at some point in their lives. Research has shown low-back pain to be predominant among office workers, especially individuals who sit for longer than three hours at a time (5,6). If you work in an office setting and have experienced low-back pain, you can attest to strain it puts on your body.
Sitting for extended periods of time may negatively alter your posture. People who sit for extended periods, especially in front of a computer or behind the wheel, tend to round their body forward. This creates a forward head and rounded shoulders posture. This hunched over posture places a lot stress on your neck and shoulders and can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain, and even headaches (7,8).
It is quite clear that sedentary living increases your risk of developing chronic disease and muscular aches and pains. Conversely, modest amounts of physical activity provide many health benefits. Physical activity reduces the risk of chronic disease, reduces muscular aches and pains, maintains healthy bodyweight, promotes strong muscles and bones, and improves mood and disposition (9,10). According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should engage in 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity (i.e., brisk walking) to help improve their overall health and fitness and reduce their risk for developing numerous chronic diseases.
Below are some simple strategies to help add more physical activity and combat the negative effects of sitting.
- Park in the furthest parking space and walking the rest of the way to your destination.
- Take frequent breaks from your computer work. For example, try walking to the water cooler every hour to grab a glass of water. Not only will you increase the amount of steps you take per day, you’ll also help your body stay hydrated.
- Stand during meetings. Standing burns roughly twice as many calories as sitting.
- Pace while talking on the phone. Pacing is an excellent way to incorporate movement into your life and burn off extra calories. People who fidget and pace tend to burn significantly more calories on average per day than those who remain still.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk to your co-workers office versus sending an email or instant message. This personal touch of communication gives you one more chance to get up and move.
- Take a walk during your lunch break. It is suggested you should strive for 10,000 steps per day. A walk during your lunch break is an effective strategy to help you reach this goal.
- Exercise during commercial breaks. Exercises can be as simple as marching in place until your show returns. By the end of an hour show you’ve acquired approximately 18 minutes worth of exercise.
- Walk your dog daily. Your four-legged friend will thank you.
- Play with your children. Take your kids to the park or simply play a game of catch in the backyard.
- Finish your household chores. Mowing the lawn, vacuuming, dusting, and other chores require you to move your body and consequently you’ll burn calories.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2006 Jan 31. Physical activity and good nutrition: essential elements to prevent chronic disease and obesity. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/publications/aag/dnpa.htm. Accessed March 20, 2012.
- Hoyert DL, Kung HC, Smith BL. Deaths: preliminary data for 2003. Natl Vital Stat Rep 2005;53:1–48.
- Patel AV, Bernstein L, Deka A et al. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Aug 15;172(4):419-29. Epub 2010 Jul 22.
- Harkness EF, Macfarlane GJ, Silman AJ, McBeth J. Is musculoskeletal pain more common now than 40 years ago? Two population-based cross-sectional studies. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2005;44(7):890–5.
- Walker BF, Muller R, Grant WD. Low back pain in Australian adults: prevalence and associated disability. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2004;27(4):238–44.
- Omokhodion FO, Sanya AO. Risk factors for low back pain among office workers in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria. Occup Med (Lond) 2003;53(4):287–9.
- Caneiro JP, O’Sullivan P, Burnett A et al. The influence of different sitting postures on head/neck posture and muscle activity. Man Ther. 2010 Feb;15(1):54-60. Epub 2009 Jul 29.
- Janda V. Muscles and Cervicogenic Pain Syndromes In: Grant R, ed. Physical Therapy of the Cervical and Thoracic Spine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1988:153–66.
- Pate RR, Pratt MM, Blair SN, et al. Physical activity and public health: a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. JAMA 1995;273:402–7.
- Lambert EV, Bohlmann I, Cowling K. Physical activity for health: understanding the epidemiological evidence for risk benefits. Int Sport Med J 2001;1(5):1–15.