Winston Churchill said, "Never stand up when you can sit down." Nowadays, sitting down is an unavoidable part of our everyday lives. More so than ever before. Since 1950, and the days of Winston Churchill, sedentary jobs have increased in the US by 83%, and physically active jobs now make up less than 20 percent of the US workforce, down from about half of the jobs in 1960.
Research has shown that prolonged periods of sitting can lead to a number of health problems like increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal levels of cholesterol, excess body fat, especially around the waist, and obesity.
The results of an international study that followed over 100,000 people aged 35-70 in economically diverse settings across 21 countries for over 11 years recently determined that high amounts of time spent sitting were associated with an increased risk of early death and cardiovascular disease.
The research showed that people who sat for about six to eight hours a day increased their risk for early death and cardiovascular disease by 12-13 percent, while those who sat for more than eight hours a day increased that risk by 20 percent.
People who sat the most and were the least active had the highest risk - up to 50 percent. And the ones who sat in excess of eight hours a day without any physical activity had a risk of dying, much like the risks posed by obesity and smoking. On the other hand, those who sat the most, but were also the most active, had a significantly lower risk of these adverse effects by about 17 percent.
If prolonged sitting is an unavoidable part of your daily life, making an effort to exercise at other times of the day can offset the risk of too much sitting. If people who sit for more than four hours a day were able to replace a half-hour of sitting with exercise, they could reduce the risk by up to two percent. By sitting less and being more physically active, one would find a very simple, effective, and low-cost way of offsetting the damages of prolonged sitting.
Though sitting may be an unavoidable part of our everyday lives, we as individuals can better protect our health by assessing our lifestyles and taking our health more seriously. It would also be helpful for clinicians to inform the public about the benefits of countering sitting with physical activity.
While a fan of sitting himself, Winston Churchill also said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." Change is hard. But by making small adjustments here and there to our daily patterns, we can improve our health and perfect our lives. There is nothing wrong with sitting, but for those of us who sit more than we should, perhaps we should consider the alternative and never sit when we can stand.