We sit in the car on the way to work. We sit at work. We sit at the cafeteria table. We sit at work some more. We sit in the car on the way home from work. We're exhausted, so we sit on the couch to watch television after sitting at the dinner table.
If you've spent eight hours a day in front of a computer, you realize what hard work it is, too. It's very stressful. The human body was not meant to sit for such long stretches at a time. The body is designed to move, to be on the move, to be active. Work is changing from eight hours of activity to eight hours of stressful physical inactivity.
Here's another way to think about it. We have so many colorful and useful verbs for human activity: walk, run, dash, spring, sprint, jog, push, exert, nudge, shove, pull, tow, tug, paddle, drag, lift, heave, toss, throw, dig, shovel, hoe, and so on. In comparison, how few words are there for a static posture? Sit. Lounge. Relax. That's about it.
If the human body is meant to be so active, there must be consequences if the body becomes inactive. And there are.
And viewing TV for an average of six hours a day can cut short your life by five years.
The research claims that a sedentary lifestyle is as bad for health as smoking and obesity, because of the dangers posed by inactivity and the greater opportunities it offers for unhealthy eating.
The academics conducting the study set out to calculate the overall risk to life expectancy from watching television. Their research involved more than 11,000 people over the age of 25.
Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they concluded: ‘TV viewing time may be associated with a loss of life that is comparable to other major chronic disease risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.’
The physical, economic and social environments in which modern humans sit or move within the contexts of their daily lives have been changing rapidly, and particularly so since the middle of the last century. These changes — in transportation, communications, workplace and domestic-entertainment technologies — have been associated with significantly-reduced demands for physical activity. However, these reductions in the environmental demands for being physically active are associated with another class of health-related behaviors.
Sedentary behaviors (typically in the contexts of TV viewing, computer and game-console use, workplace sitting, and time spent in automobiles) have emerged as a new focus for research on physical activity and health. Put simply, the perspective that we propose is that too much sitting is distinct from too little exercise.
Common behaviors in which humans now spend so much time — TV viewing, computer use and electronic games, sitting in automobiles — involve prolonged periods of these low levels of metabolic energy expenditure. It is our contention that sedentary behavior is not simply the absence of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, but rather is a unique set of behaviors, with unique environmental determinants and a range of potentially-unique health consequences. Our population-health research perspective is on the distinct role of sedentary behavior, as it may influence obesity and other metabolic precursors of major chronic diseases (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast and colon cancer).
But it's more than just physical and metabolic health. Another 2010 article, this from the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, mentions other concerns, such as the connection between a sedentary lifestyle and decreased psychosocial wellness. The authors draw attention to a number of fascinating studies, one of which draws an interesting parallel between increased television watching time and decreased academic success and college degree attainment.
If we acknowledge that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for our bodies and our minds, how can we shoehorn in enough exercise time? Well, here's an easy way: do whatever you can to stand at work. The majority of your work day is spent at work, so do as little sitting as possible when at work. This will allow you to relax at home with relative peace of mind.
Earlier this year in my office at Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria, I installed a standing desk (pictured above). This allows me to type patient notes and electronic health records while standing. It has been an excellent addition to my lifestyle, and prevents me from flopping into a computer chair. It forces me to maintain proper posture and to remain in a physically active state. When the body is physically active, the mind may also be physically active. I highly recommend the use of a standing desk for all computer workers.
Random fun fact: did you know that Ernest Hemingway used to stand while writing? Mr. Hemingway may have had several other habits that negatively impacted his health, but he got this one right!