Sitting on our butts — it’s something most of us do for hours on end. We sit at our desks and in meetings. We sit while parked in front of screens at home. We sit while eating, drinking and socializing. We sit while driving cars and riding in planes and trains and — well, pretty much everywhere, most of the time.
Given how much of our lives we spend sitting, it’s worth knowing how it affects our bodily systems — not just our musculoskeletal health, but our metabolism, biochemistry, and more.
One expert quoted in The Washington Post asserts that after 30 minutes of sitting, your metabolism can slow by as much 90 percent, and that after two hours, the good cholesterol in your blood stream can drop 20 percent. Yikes!
So in this week’s episode of The Living Experiment, we offer insights into the damage done by prolonged sitting, plus an explanation for why simply swapping sitting for standing isn’t an ideal solution, and some simple, doable ways to keep your body in motion at healthy intervals throughout the day.
“Sitting” Episode Highlights
- “Sitting (and maybe standing?) is the new smoking” – seeing beyond conflicting and confusing headlines (2:50)
- Why the real problem is being too sedentary for too long – and why extended bouts of standing, while better than sitting, still spell trouble (4:00)
- The motion-based muscular contractions required for your circulatory system to return blood to your heart (5:30)
- The chronic musculoskeletal imbalances that arise from being too still for too long (7:50)
- Why unseen postural muscles matter, and the importance of their endurance, not just their strength (10:05)
- The vicious cycle of sitting in a chair and decreasing endurance (11:00)
- Yoga and ball chairs – litmus tests (and training tools) for postural-muscle stamina (12:00)
- Mushy abs, a weak back, feeble gluteal muscles and tight hip flexors — the high costs of chair time (12:45)
- Sitting’s impact on your upper body – a concave chest, shallow breathing, and a craned neck position (15:15)
- The “medicalization” of poor lifestyle practices and “the tyranny of the diagnosis” that dissuades us from addressing the real root causes of our health problems (16:20)
- The hormonal and metabolic pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle, and the hazardous combination of sitting a lot and eating a carb-heavy, high- refined-grain diet (17:25)
- How even very short periods of movement can have giant positive effects on insulin sensitivity (19:30)
- Potential benefits of shifting to a standing desk or sit-to-stand desk (24:10)
- The bare-minimum frequency at which you need to be moving (25:00)
- A shout-out to the “Pause” episode of The Living Experiment, and how to leverage your ultradian rhythms for more regular activity breaks (25:45)
- Creating a standing desk from available stuff, or advocating for healthier office accessories (27:15)
- How to incorporate standing or walking into work meetings (28:45)
- The big picture: Planning your next life move in favor of your health, happiness and satisfaction (33:10)
- Suggested experiments for the week (35:25)
This Week’s Experiments
Establish a rule: If you’re going to watch TV or play video games, stand up while doing so.
- From a standing position, you’ll find yourself moving around more often – you simply won’t want to stand stationary for the full duration of a one-hour show.
- If you’re standing while watching, you’ll also be far less inclined to consume passive entertainments for prolonged periods.
Take a look at the environments where you spend most of your time seated – both at work and at home – and evaluate how you might be able to adjust or redesign those spaces to encourage more frequent and regular movement.
- Create a standing work station in your office by stacking up books or bringing in a platform.
- Set out a yoga mat, kettle bell, bands, or weights near where you work to inspire you to incorporate movement into your day.
- At home, assess how your entertainment area is set up: If your living room is designed around watching TV, that’s what you’re going to do. Rearrange your furniture to encourage conversation, reading, cuddling, doing creative projects or looking outside instead.
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- “Don’t Just Sit There” — a roundup of sitting’s impacts on your body via The Washington Post.
- Also from The Washington Post, a piece on healthy limits for sitting, which includes some great data on biochemical impacts of sitting.
- From Experience Life magazine, why “Standing May Be as Bad as Sitting”.
- A study, “Physical Activity and Insulin Sensitivity” showing that the total amount of activity performed over a day has more effect on insulin resistance than the intensity of exercise.
- The Pause episode of The Living Experiment, on recognizing and respecting your body’s “I-need-a-break” signals.
- “Workday Workouts” – a series of invigorating activities that turn wasted moments into body-strengthening mini-workouts, via Experience Life magazine.
- Get Up: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, a book by James Levine, MD, codirector of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University obesity initiative.
- “Move” — a free app that reminds you (at regular, selected intervals) to get up and do simple, randomly-chosen exercises from the collection you choose.
A great book by Dr. Jeff Bland (Pilar referenced his phrase “the tyranny of the diagnosis”): The Disease Delusion: Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness.
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- Check out Dallas Hartwig’s More Social Less Media Program for cues for creatively, spontaneously, meaningfully connecting with people while also re-evaluating your level of media consumption.