Sitting as a “Lethal Activity”

I don’t usually post information here about health, but the results of a carefully controlled study by Dr. James Levine for the Mayo Clinic on the harmful metabolic effects of sitting too much is pretty amazing — and disturbing, as reported in a recent article by James Vlahos for the New York Times, “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?”

Here’s an excerpt (which sounds pretty dire, but Dr. Levine and his associates have worked out some steps you can take (literally) to repair or mitigate the damage):

This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.

Hamilton’s most recent work has examined how rapidly inactivity can cause harm. In studies of rats who were forced to be inactive, for example, he discovered that the leg muscles responsible for standing almost immediately lost more than 75 percent of their ability to remove harmful lipo-proteins from the blood. Read more HERE.

In Outside Online, there’s also a good article on the subject by Gretchen Reynolds. She notes that Levine’s study showed that the damage done from 6 hours of sitting a day was not mitigated significantly by a regular exercise program. It’s the sitting for 6 hours a day that has to go!

She writes: Exercise, the researchers concluded, could not undo the biochemical impacts of not moving. Even more sobering, researchers affiliated with the American Cancer Society last year published a study showing that sitting for more than six hours a day contributed significantly to early death, even among people who exercised. A comprehensive 2010 review of studies on sitting concluded that your average “office worker who jogs or bikes to and from work, but who then sits all day at a desk and spends several hours watching TV in the evening” is at high risk of developing the same metabolic changes as seen in the immobilized rats.

I stood up and paced as I finished scanning that report. I haven’t sat down much since.

Read more of her article HERE.

Ergotron has published a very good (and more detailed) white paper called Standing Up for Workplace Fitness, which summarizes the major studies that have been done on this problem.

Apparently, most people have no idea how much time they actually spend sitting. Try timing yourself. Don’t forget the time you spend in the car, checking email, or watching TV at home. Considering that it takes “only four hours of continuous sitting for the body to go into a sort of “sleep” mode, when the genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down” (Ergotron white paper), 6 or 7 hours of sitting a day starts to look pretty bad. I’m writing this as I stand on my treadmill, which fortunately has a level, rubber-encased rail that supports my laptop, so that it doesn’t slip. Where are you, right now?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Sitting as a “Lethal Activity”

  1. Thank you! This is the most eye-opening statement yet to get me thinking about moving my body more.

  2. Pym

    You’re welcome!

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