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Will Prolonged Sitting Affect Your Health?

By Perrin Braun, January 19, 2018

Whether hunching over a computer screen, spending hours behind the wheel of your car, or plopping down on the couch for an evening of television, we all do it. What do all of those things have in common? Sitting! The bad news is that we are more sedentary than any previous generation. In fact, most adults spend over nine hours a day doing sedentary activities. Research shows that long periods of sitting down, even for people who are otherwise physically active, take a toll on your health.

Even if you exercise regularly, the hours of sitting add up. You might run for 30 minutes for five days a week, but you spend most of your waking hours sitting. So, it’s quite possible that you are physically active, but still fairly sedentary—otherwise known as an “active couch potato.” While working out is certainly beneficial to your overall health, it does not counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting. 

Extended periods of sitting at work can affect 3 specific biomarkers: high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol: hsCRP measures inflammation, while the other two are direct indicators of heart health. If these markers are out of range, it might mean it's time for you to change your work desk habits.


What happens when you sit?

Recent animal studies show that prolonged sitting decreases circulation, and the body can start to shut down on a metabolic level. When rats were prevented from moving around their cages, their levels of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase fell.  This important enzyme works to break down fats in the body. The sedentary animals displayed signs of insulin resistance and increased levels of fatty acids in their blood.

Most notably, the rats that produced this protective enzyme are the ones whose muscles were actively flexed, such as when standing or moving around. Humans also have lipoprotein lipase enzyme, and when people sit for a long time (minimizing the amount of muscle activation), studies have shown that their risk of poor heart health, increased weight, and high blood sugar increases.

Moreover, a 2010 study suggested that it’s not just the length of time that we spend sitting that matters, but also the number of times that we get up and walk around that can influence our health. In the study, people who took small breaks to get up, even as short as a minute long, had smaller waist circumference and lower levels of C-reactive protein than people who didn’t.

One of the most glaring and obvious problems with sitting is that you don’t use much energy doing it. Since you aren’t expending energy, sitting for a prolonged period of time makes it much easier to gain weight and acquire health problems associated with being overweight. Long periods of sitting correlate with poor heart health, inflammation, larger waist sizes, lower levels of HDL cholesterol, and increased levels of triglycerides.

The good news is that even for those subjected to sitting many hours each day at work, frequent standing or walking breaks may mitigate the damage of sitting.  The study found that the more active breaks taken, the smaller the subjects’ waists and the lower their levels of inflammation.

Long periods of sitting can also result in muscle fatigue, aches, and injuries. Holding a fixed sitting position decreases the blood supply to your muscles, which accelerates muscle fatigue. When you finally leave your chair, you’re more likely to have muscle cramps or strains. Sitting may also cause pressure on the spine, leading to back pain. Slumping over when you sit can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. If you exercise or play sports during non-work hours, the time you spend sitting can catch up with you!

Learn how the InsideTracker blood analysis program can tell you if your lifestyle habits are damaging your health!


How to sit less

Whether you’re an active or inactive couch potato, there are steps that you can take to avoid the negative health effects of prolonged sitting. Most important … stand up! Set a timer to go off every 30 minutes. When it beeps, stand up and walk around for a few minutes. Take the stairs during breaks, and walk to a farther restroom. Even standing for a minute to stretch your legs is beneficial. If your employer will allow it, try a standing or treadmill desk, or hold a meeting standing up (it keeps the meetings shorter, too). Stand while you are eating lunch.

Even small changes, like standing up to take phone calls or walking over to a co-worker’s desk rather than emailing can provide some crucial breaks from sitting. If you reduce sitting by five minutes every hour, you’ve shaved an hour off your total sitting time at by the end of a long day. After work, if you’re watching TV, get up and walk around during commercial breaks.

Finally, schedule regular InsideTracker blood analysis to monitor your progress in optimizing your inflammation, triglycerides, and cholesterol markers. It’s a great way to keep motivated to stop sitting and stand up!

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