Sitting really is bad for your health – ‘sitting watching TV for an average of 6 hours a day can shorten your life by 4.8 years’. For years, osteopaths have been advising their patients to avoid sitting down for too long – and recent research is now backing up what we have always known. In fact, sitting can be a problem in more ways than we expected!
As osteopaths, we see thousands of people with back injuries every year, injuries that have come about due to sitting for too long or because of bad posture. We also frequently discuss with our patients the disadvantages of a sedentary lifestyle for general health purposes. In particular, it increases the likelihood of becoming overweight, the adverse effects on their circulatory system and the fact that osteoporosis is more of a problem for people who are inactive.
You will already no doubt have heard that long periods of sitting increases our risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). We know that long flights present DVT risk and many people use compression stockings or flight socks to reduce that risk. You can also do the following simple exercise while sitting, called a Calf Pump.
It really is very easy! Sit with your feet flat on the floor, raise your heels, then raise the front of your feet alternately 30-40 times a minute for 2 minutes every 20 minutes. This exercise activates the calf pump which works when the calf muscles contract. Deep veins within the calf muscle are squeezed every time the calf muscle works. The veins have valves within their walls which only allow blood to flow upwards and back to the heart so the calf muscle helps your circulation by pumping the blood from the legs. This happens normally during walking and can be mimicked when sitting by using this exercise.
Sitting too long reduces your lifespan
More worryingly, research published this year shows that people who sit watching TV for an average of 6 hours a day over their lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years less than someone who does not watch TV.
Another study of 92,000 post-menopausal women over a 12 year period found that those who spent most time sitting (11 hours or more a day) had a 27% increased risk of dying from heart disease and a 21% increased risk of dying from cancer compared to those who sat 4 or less hours per day.
Long periods of sitting increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer as well as back pain and DVT, as mentioned.
Research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that reducing sitting time increases the length of your telomeres which are know to be associated with a longer healthier life.
So, what exactly are Telomeres?
Our chromosomes contain the DNA which is the blueprint for all our body cells and tissues. Our cells continue to divide and renew throughout life and scientists now think that aging and eventually death are linked to the integrity of the chromosomes.
The arms of our chromosomes are protected by the telomere, which is a little bit like the plastic at the end of a shoelace! If the plastic breaks off, the shoelace will fray and, in the same way, it is thought that degradation of the telomeres causes our chromosomes to become ragged and so the DNA message is not copied properly when cells divide.
It is difficult to believe that something as seemingly innocuous as sitting can really affect our DNA but that really does seem to be the case
What can I do?
A simple 3 point plan can significantly reduce your risk from sitting:
1. Reduce your sitting overall and incorporate more movement and activity into your daily routine. We call this non-exercise activity and it does help:
a. If you do like to watch TV make sure you get up to make a cuppa
b. Move your feet and legs while sitting.
c. Get up every time you want to change channels
d. Do something with your arms, for example some ironing or folding washing.
2. If you have a sedentary job alternate between sitting and standing at work. Stand for a stretch every 20 minutes. Sit / stand desks are becoming more widely available so your waking day is divided between sitting and standing.
3. If you are forced through circumstances to sit for longer periods
a. Use the calf muscle pump exercise to keep your circulation going
b. Move within your seat – shift your weight forwards and backwards a little and move from one cheek to the other before settling again. Move your arms and shoulders. Do this every 20 minutes.
All these activities are simple to do but really can make a difference. Don’t forget that sitting for long periods is not good for your health!