Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's Next? No Sitting?

Dear George,
Once people reach middle age, they start to pay more attention to good health practices.  I’m afraid I’ve gotten too complacent lately though.  I cut down on sweets; lost some weight; am careful about eggs and trans-fats; eat lots of high-fiber cereal and Healthy Choice frozen entrees; take the dogs for long walks (when they’re willing), etc.  Now I find out all this may be for nought.  Thanks to a barrage of media information, it appears that the newest threat to health and longetivity is (believe it or not) … SITTING! 

That’s a total shock.  I sit all the time.  At the computer the most, but also when eating, watching TV, at the movies, reading the paper, doing Sudoku, putting on my shoes, etc.  I even sit on the strength machines when doing my workout at the gym.   It turns out that the experts have now concluded that sitting is just as powerfully associated with death and deterioration as are, for example, smoking or obesity.   Here’s USA Today’s summary: “If most people spent less than three hours a day sitting, it would add two years to the average life expectancy in this country. And if they cut the time they spent on the couch watching TV to less than two hours a day, it would add about 1.4 [additional] years to overall life expectancy…”  (1)

My first reaction was that they’d gotten confused.  That it’s not sitting that’s to blame, but rather that physical activity promotes health and well-being.  People who sit a lot don’t exercise, and consequently they don’t live as long.  But, surprisingly, that’s not correct.  The most recent research – a study of death rates in a population of over 222,000 Australian adults (2) – found that sitting was associated with fatal outcomes regardless of  one’s level of exercise.  People who sit for more than eight hours a day have a 15% greater risk of dying than those who sit for less than four hours a day, and those who sit for eleven or more hours a day die 40% more often.  This sturdy connection between sitting and death holds for people who do no exercise, for people who do moderate exercise, and for people who do lots of exercise.  Basically, the implication is that sitting causes death, regardless of one’s exercise habits.  Even worse, an hour a day at the gym does nothing to counter the harmful effects of sitting around the rest of the time.  As one expert at the Mayo Clinic (3) put it, “The human being is designed to move … If you stop your body, idle it – which sitting is – it crumbles on every level.”  (Actually I just felt some inner crumbling as I was typing this very sentence.) 

So what are we supposed to do now?  Quitting smoking was hard enough, but cutting down on sitting by sixty percent or more seems totally unworkable.  And I don’t think they’re just talking about standing up more.  Hanging out on the street corner doesn’t increase your life expectancy.  They want us walking, jogging, running, doing push-ups.  Assuming one sleeps about eight hours a night, that leaves sixteen waking hours per day, only four of which should be devoted to sitting.  Twelve hours a day is a huge amount of time to spend walking and jogging.  I can barely force the dogs to go walking for one hour a day – there’s no way they will shift to eight or nine hours.  In fact, if I personally have to spend 12 hours walking every day, I’m not even sure I want to live that long.  

One excellent tip that I did run across was to replace your chairs with therapy balls (since these require constant muscle movement to maintain your balance).  Katja recently redecorated our living room with fancy new leather chairs.  They are very comfortable, but now that I know they’re life-threatening, I avoid them as much as possible.  Despite the financial costs of redecorating one more time, I think brightly colored therapy balls would look nice in our living room.  I’ll keep everyone informed if we find some.  In the meantime, whatever you do, keep moving. 

(1) “Sitting less could extend your life”  (, July 10, 2012)
(2)  “Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults.  By H. P. van der Ploeg et al., Arch. Intrn. Med., 2012. 
(3)  “Are You Sitting Yourself to Death?”   (

G-mail Comments
-Jennifer M (7-18):  haha.  I sat while reading this.  I think I died a little bit, just like you did when you wrote it.  :-)

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