Updated: Sep 16, 2020
The health costs for prolonged sitting may be greater than you think.
The average American spends most of his or her day sitting: sitting down at the breakfast table to watch the morning news, sitting in the car on the way to work, sitting at an office desk all day, sitting in the car on the way back from work, sitting at the dinner table to eat, and finally sitting at the couch to watch some TV before bedtime. Although we might not think about it on a day-to-day basis, we actually spend quite a large amount of time sitting -- and sitting too much can be surprisingly deadly.
According to the American Cancer Society, sitting for six hours a day or more increases your risk of dying early to 19 percent, compared with people who sit fewer than three hours per day.
Furthermore, sitting for too long has been linked to a higher risk of death from the following 14 diseases: cancer; stroke; heart disease; diabetes; kidney disease; lung disease; suicide; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); Parkinson's disease; Alzheimer's disease; liver disease; peptic ulcer and other digestive diseases; nervous disorders; and musculoskeletal disorders.
In recent years, we have unfortunately become glued to our chairs, undoubtedly due to the overwhelming role that technology now plays in our everyday lives. According to an Australian study, 90% of non-working time was spent sitting, and over 50% of non-working time was spent watching TV or navigating a computer.
Though it isn’t exactly clear why sitting for long periods of time is unhealthy, it has been linked to higher levels of triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure, insulin, and inflammation caused by obesity. These in turn lead to various heart, liver, kidney, and respiratory diseases, along with diabetes and cancer.
However, it is even more unclear why prolonged sitting is linked with suicide, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders. It may be that these diseases cause people to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
For the 14 deadly diseases listed above, the increased mortality risk ranges from 10 percent for cancer to 60 percent for musculoskeletal disease, according to lead researcher Alpa Patel.
For the American Cancer Society prevention study, Patel and her team collected data on nearly 128,000 healthy men and women, all of whom were free of major chronic diseases. During the next 21 years of follow-up, almost 49,000 died.
Though this data is shocking, it is solid evidence that prolonged sitting can be lethal. Luckily, the solution is simple: break up those long sedentary periods with a quick lap around the room. According to Patel, “2 minutes of standing or light activity can improve cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure." Routine activity also helps to maintain mental health and is essential for a healthy lifestyle.