We spend a lot of time on our butts. We sit. A LOT. This is especially so if we have more sedentary jobs, where we sit at desks or in board meetings all day. Most of my yoga clients are office workers, which means a typical day for them starts by sitting down for breakfast in the morning, then sitting on the bus or in their cars commuting to work; sitting in front of a computer in the morning, sitting to eat lunch, sitting again at the workstation for the afternoon until the the clock strikes 5 pm, at which time they are released from their shackles. On the commute home they sit back on the bus or in their cars. They sit again to eat dinner and sit to watch TV on the couch until it’s time to head to bed.
Ring a bell?
So what really is all this sitting doing to our body?
Dr. Chris Raynor, a Ottawa-Gatineau-based orthopaedic surgeon and personal trainer, estimates that sitting takes up on average 15.5 hours per day. To make up for the rest of the day, he adds in 30 minutes for exercise and eight hours of sleep. It’s almost shocking to think that we could possibly sit for that long every day. But run through a typical day in your head, from start to finish; how much sitting are you doing,really?
As a society, we are spending far too much time motionless. Waistlines of the young and the old are expanding at a rapid pace, and we are seeing an increase in obesity levels among young children and even adults. Generations past would spend all day outside, farming and commuting by foot, amongst other activities and livelihoods. Times have changed, in most of North America, anyways. When comparing older generations to current ones, researchers made an eye-opening discovery: they found a link between time spent sitting and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and cardiovascular disease.
The risk and instances of physical disease increase with age, as does active sitting time, which makes this rising problem a double edged sword.
So what has changed between the days when our grandparents spent their days working on their feet (and not in an office) and moved all day long? The answer is technology. Everything in our modern life comes from a need to spend less time doing more things, and to do it faster than ever before. In other words, moving less and sitting more. This is where the “sitting disease” comes in.
Those who sit throughout their day are more likely to have higher levels of blood glucose and insulin levels in their bloodstream, compared to people who exercise and move throughout their day. Glycemia is one medical issue caused by high blood glucose, is associated with a number of problems such as damaged organs, fatigue, excessive thirst, excessive hunger, and poor wound healing. None of the organs in the body function properly with high sugar levels. Insulin is the hormone that tells our bodies where to put sugar and how to use it effectively, so it doesn’t just sit around wreaking havoc on your body.
“If you have a high blood glucose level you need a lot of insulin in order to deal with it,” says Dr Raynor. “High insulin levels lead to diabetes, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and weight gain.”
Hour upon hour spent planted on your tush means your body tissues, organs and metabolism are not working properly and are not engaged the way the were designed.
The longer you sit, the less efficiently your body's system runs. Blood-sugar levels are just one thing to watch for. Dr Mark Tremblay, the Director of The Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa says, “When you’re not moving enough your heart, lungs and muscles go into hibernation mode and they waste away, typically due to the degeneration of cells called atrophy and over time they can decay. The metabolism of fats and glucose gets disrupted, and you’re not burning many calories.”
On top of all this, the lymphatic system won’t circulate properly, digestion process becomes restricted, the pancreas cannot process efficiently, insulin isn’t used effectively, and instead of being absorbed by your body, glucose builds up in your blood and cholesterol increases, as mentioned above. All of these poor functions can lead to Type 2 diabetes, and a slew of other problems like heart attacks or strokes. And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the possible consequences of obesity, inflammation, water retention, and increased weight gain particularly around your internal organs.
Staying stationary can also have a detrimental effect on our spinal column and our lungs. The rib cage and thorax can compress, and we are less able to expand our lungs to take in oxygen. If our brain isn’t getting enough oxygen it can’t function as efficiently, which is one of the reasons you feel tired after a long day of sitting.
How can we gain more movement in our day?
“Stand up, sit less, move more, more often.”
This quote from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia says it all in such a simple way. Stand up in your office to talk on the phone, do squats watching TV, walk to the printer (pick the one at the opposite end of your floor), stay hydrated – it won’t hurt that you’ll have to walk to the bathroom more – change your posture, don’t sit too long, don’t stand too long, alternate your crossed leg (if you imperatively cross your leg while sitting), move your hips and extremities, use the stairs, and stretch often. Really, just move!
So what about a standing workstation?
I have one at work and I love it, but I still have a chair. Replacing sitting with standing is only marginally better for your health as you’re still in one position for a long period of time if you stand to work. It’s much better to change your position as much as you can throughout the day. If you can alternate your workstation between standing and sitting, you’re on your way to improving or preventing the problems associated with extensive sitting.
Here are 5 ways you can conquer the sitting disease and add movement in your workday:
So to my yoga teachers, yogis, and yoginis who also find themselves at stationary jobs in their daily life, remember the more you move the better your body will feel and ultimately perform. We have the ability to ward off disease and illness and it all starts with movement. We can fight the sitting disease and WIN!
By Marie-Julie Côté, Inner Fire Luminary