We’ve all done it. I’m guilty of it today, in fact: We go to the gym, train hard, come back home, and sit on our butts for the next 8 hours.
Or we do it the other way around: we work at a desk for 8+ hours, go to the gym for 1 hour, and then go home and sit some more (watching TV, eating, driving).
What’s wrong with this? As long as we work out, we’re healthy, right?
Not so fast.
Sitting is emerging as an independent risk factor for… death, among other things. And death is pretty serious. Really.
There’s a bunch of studies that have studied sitting and sedentary lifestyles. Here’s a recent one titled “Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222,497 Australian Adults.” (I love these scientists and their creative titles.) It found that people who sit >11 hours per day were 40% more likely to die than people who sat <4 hours per day. Sitting between 8 and 11 hours a day was associated with a “mere” 15% increase in mortality.
All of this was after correcting for factors like diet, age, smoking, lack of exercise, etc. In other words, we’d expect sedentary people to be unhealthier on average compared to active people, but this study tried to control for all that.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a “correlation does not equal causation” study, but it matches other studies that suggest that sitting for long periods isn’t exactly healthy.)
So what this means, in simple terms, is that working out for an hour or two isn’t going to cancel out 8+ hours of sitting every day. Yes, exercising is better than not exercising, but sitting really is that bad. It’s kinda like smoking: you can’t just eat a salad or exercise once in a while and undo the harmful effects of smoking three packs a day.
Unfortunately, sitting in chairs is pretty much unavoidable for most people these days, unless you live in a hunter-gatherer tribe in Africa or Papua New Guinea or something. (Believe me, I work at a gym, where I’m on my feet for 8 hours, and I can still remember days in recent weeks where I’ve sat for about 8 hours straight!)
However, there are some simple, effective things you can do to reduce the amount of time you sit, or to make sitting less harmful.
- Fidget. Moving around is good! (Sorry, Mom… Bill Hartman told me to fidget, so I’m going to keep fidgeting.)
- Set up a kitchen timer to remind yourself to get up and move every 10-15 minutes. I’m actually doing this right now as I write this blog post!
- Set up a station where you can work while standing. This doesn’t work for everybody, and standing still for 8+ hours a day has its own set of problems (sore feet, back pain). But if it works for you, standing is probably better than sitting. Better yet, change positions frequently from sitting to standing.
- Some really motivated people have set up treadmill desks, although for some reason I don’t see this catching on with the general public.
- Quit your desk job and get a job at IFAST. Okay, so this one’s not ideal for everybody, either. But hey, it worked for me, so it’s probably worth trying, right?
So try it out: move around a whole bunch more. If you’re interested in fat loss, moving around is better than sitting. If you’re a human being, it’ll make it less likely that you’ll die soon. What do you have to lose?