Sitting Is the New Smoking: The Secret To Keeping Sitting From Destroying Your Body
If you sit more than 6 hours per day, read this.
Sitting is the new smoking – as a Brookfield chiropractor who sees hundreds of patients every week dealing with low back pain from sitting all day, I can tell you that’s a fact. And in our modern, technology-driven world, we’re more sedentary than we’ve ever been before.
There’s a 70% chance that you’re sitting as you read this. You were probably sitting for the hour before you read this, and you’ll most likely be sitting for the majority of your day after reading this.
Americans sit for an average of 9.3 hours per day – that’s significantly more time than we even spend sleeping (7.7 hours).
You sit down to have breakfast. You sit in your car on the way to work and once you arrive, you sit in front of your computer for the majority of the day. After work, you probably sit in front of the television for a few more hours before calling it a day, well aware that you should have gotten to the gym or taken a walk to at least offset some of the sitting you did all day.
Our bodies simply weren’t built for that. Our ancestors walked over 20,000 steps a day. The average desk worker today gets less than 2,000. It’s no wonder everyone’s body is so messed up – and we’re not just talking about lower back pain, either.
Sitting is killing you
If you sit more than 6 hours a day, you’re not doing your body any favors. Prolonged sitting has been shown to directly lead to:
- Neck, shoulder and low back pain: Extended sitting without movement puts strain on the muscles and ligaments in the back and causes compression of the spinal discs. In fact, sitting puts 40-90% more stress on the intervertebral discs than standing does. Sitting also causes the hip flexor muscles to become tight and shortened, pulling you into anterior pelvic tilt and putting additional strain on the lower back. As a chiropractor in Brookfield, sitting all day every day ranks up there as one of the top reasons my office is so busy.
- Increased risk of heart disease: Studies have shown that sitting for more than 6 hours per day can increase your risk of heart disease by up to 64%, as well as put you at a higher likelihood of hypertension and high cholesterol.
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes: Sitting for long periods of time can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because sitting makes your muscles become less responsive to insulin, which in turn leads to higher blood sugar levels.
- Increased risk of cancer: Prolonged sitting has also been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, including lung, breast, uterine, and colon cancer.
- Increased risk of death – period: Sitting for six or more hours per day makes you 40% more likely to die an early death of all causes than those who sit 3 hours or less per day. This includes an increased risk of stroke, kidney disease, suicide, COPD, pneumonitis, liver disease, peptic ulcers and other digestive diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and nervous system disorders.
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
-Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic at Arizona State University
So how do you avoid becoming another statistic in the sitting epidemic?
Simply standing more isn’t the answer
The obvious solution to sitting too much is to stand more, right? After all, standing burns more calories than sitting, engages more muscles, and improves circulation.
Well… yes and no.
While standing does burn more calories than sitting (about 50 more calories per hour), it’s really not enough to make a significant difference in your overall health. In fact, static standing for prolonged periods can have its own negative effects: lower back pain, varicose veins, foot problems, and an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
Don’t get me wrong, a standing workstation is a great start. But don’t pat yourself on the back thinking you’ve solved all of your health problems just because you’re standing all day. In fact, some researchers have even gone so far as to claim that the benefits of standing desks are mostly bullsh*t.
The truth is that simply standing doesn’t address the real problem: lack of movement. Standing still for hours on end isn’t all that much better than sitting still when it comes to your health. What really matters isn’t whether you sit or stand, but how often you change your position and how often you’re actually moving your body.
So what’s the solution to sitting too much?
The answer is simple: movement. Movement is essential for your body and mind. It helps you burn calories, improves circulation, strengthens muscles and bones, boosts mood and creativity, and prevents stiffness and pain. Movement can also reduce stress and inflammation, which are directly linked to hundreds of different chronic diseases.
Below are 6 simple, at-home exercises you can do daily to help reset your posture and reverse the effects of sitting all day:
1. The McGill Crunch
Sit-ups are awful for your spine; this crunch variation is a much safer and effective way to activate your core musculature. Aim for 6-10 focused reps.
2. Modified Side Plank Holds
Modified side planks involve performing the exercise from a bent-knee position, rather than with straight legs. It also takes stress off the shoulder by putting the weight on your elbow instead. Squeeze your glutes and aim for 5 reps on each side, holding for 5-10 seconds each.
3. Bird Dogs
Bird dogs are a fantastic exercise for improving core strength and stability, as well as increasing hip and shoulder mobility. Just like with side planks, aim for 5 reps on each side, and hold for 5-10 seconds each.
4. Glute Bridge With Leg Extension
When our glutes are weak, we overcompensate by using the muscles in our back to stabilize our bodies. One of the safer, more effective ways to activate & strengthen the glutes is by doing glute bridges. Aim for 10 reps on each side.
5. Bar Hangs
One of the most underrated exercises on the planet is hanging from a bar. Doing this helps with posture, shoulder stability & de-compresses the spine after sitting. If you’re a beginner aim for 30 seconds. If you’re an intermediate gym-goer aim for 1 minute or longer.
Cat-cows improve the flexibility of the neck, shoulders & spine. Doing this stretch helps mobilize the lumbopelvic junction and release tension in the neck and upper back. Aim for 8-10 reps at a time.
Movement is key
As a general rule, occupational health experts recommend regularly switching between sitting and standing throughout the day. Cumulatively, you should aim to be standing for about 40% of your working hours and in your chair for about 60% of your working hours. But that guideline is still missing the most important component: movement.
Movement doesn’t have to be intense or complicated. It can be as simple as walking around your office every hour, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or cranking out a fews sets of the exercises above during your work breaks.
The key is to break up your long periods of sitting with regular bursts of movement. This will keep your metabolism active, your blood flowing, your muscles working, and your mind alert.
The bottom line is that if you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve been sitting for too long. We should all be up at least 5 minutes out of every hour.
There’s no set rule for the ideal ratio of sitting to standing to moving, but some experts suggest using the 20-8-2 rule: sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8 minutes, and move for 2 minutes. Others suggest following the Pomodoro technique: work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, and repeat throughout the day.
The point is to make movement a habit you do regularly throughout the day. In fact, studies have shown that regularly getting up and moving throughout the day has been shown to be significantly more effective in improving blood panel health markers than sweating it out in a spin class, getting on a treadmill for 30 minutes, or doing a round of P90X.
“Simply reducing inactivity by increasing the time spent walking or standing is a more effective way to help reduce certain health risks than one hour of physical exercise.”
-Dr. Bernard Duvivier, Maastricht University Medical Centre
To put into perspective just how difficult it is to use a session at the gym to ‘cancel out’ the effects of being sedentary all day, research has demonstrated that it requires at least an hour of intense exercise to offset all the negative effects of sitting for 6-7 hours.
The bottom line
Our modern way of living and working makes it extremely difficult to stay healthy. Be intentional with how much you sit and seek ways to get more movement in throughout the day.
Remember that any movement is better than no movement. Even small changes can make a big difference in your physical and mental health. Get up and move – your body will thank you!
And if you’re already dealing with the back, neck and shoulder pain that comes from sitting too much, we’d love for you to find out why both the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Milwaukee Shepherd Express named us their top Milwaukee chiropractor of 2022. To get started, make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.