Luke Worrell –
WARNING: Sitting increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and shortens your lifespan.
What if there was a caution sign like this on every chair similar to that of a cigarette packet? This wouldn’t seem far-fetched, as many scientists are declaring sitting as the new smoking. I find myself, probably like most of you, rushing from one place to another to do one thing: sit.
While most Americans understand negative health consequences of smoking, the detrimental effects of a deskbound lifestyle are less commonly known. From eating to working to driving the kids around, sitting is taking over our daily lives as well as our health.
In the Information Age with technology constantly flooding our senses, we are sitting way too much. For example, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported in 2013 that the average American is sedentary 9.3 hours per day. Over the past five years, the new field of “inactivity physiology” has emerged to study the impact of sedentary lifestyles on human metabolism and health.
New research also reveals that sitting is more lethal than you think. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that those who sat more than 6 hours a day were 40% more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sat 3 hours per day. Additionally, a study from The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that men who sit more than six hours per day have an 18% increased chance of dying from heart disease compared to men who sit for three hours or less.
Some with desk jobs might argue that exercising multiple times per week is a sufficient remedy to their prolonged sitting. However, hitting the gym often does not reverse the adverse effects of prolonged sitting. Along with numerous other studies, The Annals of Internal Medicine recently concluded last month that the damaging risks of extended sedentary time are independent of one’s physical activity.
To put it another way, sitting for six hours at work is just as destructive for those who go home and watch Jeopardy as it is for those who workout. So what next? Kelly Starett, a distinguished physical therapist, explains in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard that we need to move more often and avoid long periods in a sedentary position.
Due to this mounting evidence on the sitting disease, deskbound workers have discovered that the most effective cure is a stand-up desk. The University of Chester studied standing desks and concluded that if someone spends three more hours a day standing, they will burn up to 30,000 more calories in a year. That’s comparable to running about 10 marathons.
While most of the inactivity research is focused around adults, we need to start addressing today’s children as they grow up in such a sedentary environment. Middle-school children sit around six hours per day in school combined with limited recess time and P.E. classes. Then, after school, many go home and sit some more. Starting bad sedentary habits early in school can lead to the continuation of bad habits later in life.
The implementation of standing desks for middle school children could not only help students pay more attention, but also significantly increase their posture and overall health. A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, looked at the effects of standing desks on about 480 students yielding impressive results. The leading researcher, Mark Benton, discovered that not only were the students more engaged and focused, but they also burned more calories, especially those who were obese. If we want to optimize our kids learning and health, more schools should seriously consider embracing stand up desks.
Humans are not designed to be sitting this much. Although we evolved as hunter-gatherers constantly moving on our feet, it looks as if we are devolving into an obese, slouched-over caveman staring at the computer screen. Even worse, our children are being raised the same way. Now that we know sitting is literally killing us, we need to start standing up not only for ourselves, but also for our kids.