Do People Really Sit Too Much? To understand how time spent sitting can add up to have a negative effect on one’s health, consider the daily schedule of a working adult in North America who exercises two or three days per week:
- Wake up and get ready for work
- Commute to work, most likely in a seated position while driving or taking public transportation
- Work a minimum of eight hours per day, most likely in a desk-bound office job; if an individual works in an active job or in a standing position, he or she is often performing the same repetitive motions throughout a work shift
- Stop by a fitness facility for a workout two or three evenings per week. Even though an individual is exercising, which is great, he or she may be performing at least some of the exercises while in a seated position, which limits the opportunity to add more standing time to the day.
- Commute home, again probably in a seated position while operating or riding in a vehicle
- There is a high probability that many people will spend a few more hours in a seated position while watching a screen once they finally make it home for the evening.
While many people are indeed more physically active during the day than the description given above, this is not an uncommon pattern of behavior in the daily lives of many Americans. In the United States, the 2015−2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of almost 6,000 adults found that 25% of respondents reported sitting for more than eight hours per day, with an additional 14% claiming they spend at least six to eight hours a day in a seated position; surprisingly, only less than 3% of adults reported sitting less than four hours a day (Ussery et al., 2018).
Of course, the more people sit, the fewer calories they are likely to burn throughout the day, which can have a significant impact on weight control, even for those who exercise regularly.
In one study, researchers observed that up to 68% of adult participants’ total waking time was spent in a sedentary position (Dunstan et al., 2012). Another study , which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that the length of time that an individual spends in a seated position can be linked to a greater risk of death from a number of chronic health conditions, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Additionally, the researchers concluded that sitting for lengthy periods of time can have negative consequences on overall health, and that these health consequences are greatly increased for individuals who participate in little-to-no physical activity. The findings suggest that the health risk of sitting too much is less pronounced when physical activity is increased. We need further research to better understand how much physical activity is needed to offset the health risks associated with extended periods of sedentary time.
In addition to the physical cost, being sedentary comes with a high economic cost. A United Kingdom study of 2016 healthcare costs related to sedentary behavior found that the costs were almost 1 billion pounds (equivalent to almost $1.3 billion U.S. dollars) and resulted in an estimated 70,000 premature deaths (Heron et al., 2019).
Many individuals who exercise think that their levels of physical activity mean that they don’t need to be concerned about accumulating sedentary time. An analysis of the research, however, reveals a surprising observation: “Those who reported participating in more than seven hours a week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during leisure time, but who also watched TV more than seven hours a day had a 50% greater risk of death from all causes and twice the risk of death from cardiovascular disease relative to those who undertook the same amount of physical activity but watched less than an hour of TV per day” (Dunstan et al., 2012).
While all of this information may seem overwhelming and, frankly, a little depressing, the good news is that the development of activity trackers has given scientists and public health researchers access to greater levels of data for understanding the negative health outcomes of sedentary behavior. With this data, they are beginning to identify solutions that can help move individuals toward improved health outcomes.
Solutions to Counteract the Effects of Excessive Sitting
A significant development in recent years that many believe has the potential to influence positive behavior change is the relatively widespread use of fitness trackers and smart watches. Trackers and watches not only help researchers collect data about the time spent sitting that is impacting our health, but the data are being used to help influence healthy behaviors in an effort to reduce lengthy periods of inactivity. Many of these devices feature trackers that monitor the amounts of physical activity performed and estimate the number of calories burned based on heart rate, body weight, age and other variables, as well as timers that remind users to move at regular intervals.
Here are some tips to reduce sitting time from St. Louis, Brentwood and Clayton, MO personal trainers:
- Stand while making phone calls
- Break up desk and work with body weight squats, standing knee hugs, and side lunges
- Try hosting a walking meeting
- Go talk to your co-workers in person
- Have a reminder alarm for when to stand
3 Exercises to Improve Thoracic Spine and Hip Mobility
Muscle and connective tissue are interconnected, and the skeleton is the structural foundation of the human body. The bones that comprise the skeleton have a series of joints that will either allow a significant amount of mobility or provide structure to create relative stability. Among the most important areas of mobility for the body are the hips and the intervertebral segments of the thoracic spine. Optimal mobility in these areas can help improve movement efficiency throughout the entire body. The following exercises will help improve mobility in those joints, which will help reduce your likelihood of developing a low-back injury. These movements can be done every day to enhance mobility and help counteract the effects of long periods of sitting.
High Plank With Thoracic Rotation
Start in a push-up/high-plank position with both hands directly under the shoulders and the feet a little wider than hip-distance apart. Contract the thigh and glute muscles as you press the left hand into the floor and lift the right hand up. Rotate on your left shoulder and turn both feet to point to the right. Rotate back to the starting position and repeat by pressing the right hand into the floor and lifting the left hand up to rotate on the right shoulder. Perform four to five rotations on each arm. Rest for 45 seconds and complete two sets.
Rotation and Lateral Flexion of the Thoracic Spine
A combination of lateral flexion and rotation in the spine creates rotation of the intervertebral segments, which can greatly improve rotation through the upper back.
Reach the right arm across the body at shoulder height while rotating the trunk to the left. At the same time, reach the left hand overhead toward the right side of the body, causing you to lean to the right. Try to move rhythmically with both arms at the same time. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions in each direction. Rest for 30 seconds and perform a total of two sets.
Rotational Lunge With Bilateral Arm Reach at Shoulder Height
Start with the feet hip-distance apart and arms held straight out in front of the body at chest height. With the left foot, step out and turn to the left as you rotate the left hip to step toward the 7 o’clock position while keeping your right foot planted in the 12 o’clock direction. When the left foot hits the floor, keep the spine tall and rotate both arms to the left. Return to the starting position. Complete eight to 10 repetitions to the left and then to the right. Rest for 45 seconds and complete a second set.
Sitting is something that everyone has to do at some point throughout the day. Like a lot of things in life, a little bit of sitting is not bad for you, and for many people it is simply unavoidable. Unfortunately, as the research continues to show, excessive amounts of sitting could contribute to an early death. Learning about the negative effects of prolonged sitting while also providing specific strategies can help ensure that you stay healthy and strong.
For more information on anti-sitting strategies, contact Maurie Cofman, CMES, CES, TBMM-CES, Personal Trainer, Certified Medical Exercise Specialist, Health Coach and Corrective Exercise Specialist in the St. Louis, Brentwood, and Clayton, MO area.