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How Can You Overcome the Harms of Sitting Too Much?

How much time do you spend sitting on average? Chances are it's way too much and it's surprisingly bad for your health. How can you counteract the harm?
Man sitting in deckchair falling asleep in the shed sleepy insomnia

How many hours a day do you sit? Be honest, please. If you work in front of a computer, we’ll bet you spend more than eight hours a day sitting. And that doesn’t count time sitting in your car, sitting while you eat or sitting in front of the television. Our ancestors were far more active. Go back a couple of generations and the chances are good our grandparents and great-grandparents were far more active than we are. My mother, for example, really did walk miles to and from school each day. She also spent hours in her garden. I, on the other hand, spend many hours writing on a computer. What are the harms of so much sitting?

How Times Have Changed in Just Two Decades!

Americans spend even more time sitting now than they did at the start of the 21st century. That is the conclusion from a study of more than 51,000 individuals, including children, teens and adults of various ages. The research was published in JAMA (April 23/30, 2019), and it shows that television viewing time of approximately two hours a day across various ages hasn’t changed all that much. 

These days, people are using computers more during their leisure time. As a result, adolescents and adults both spend more time during their day sitting in front of a screen. People over 65 in particular have increased their leisure-time computer use.

Why Is Sitting So Much So Worrisome?

Sitting for many hours a day is bad for health. Some analysts have taken to calling sitting the new smoking. While that is undoubtedly an exaggeration, too much sitting appears to increase the risks of developing hypertension, high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol and premature death.

Experts say standing is only a little bit better. Many offices now come with work stations that allow people to raise their computers and work standing up. If you are not moving, however, the chances are that you won’t gain a lot by standing in one place, staring at a screen for hours on end.

What may help more is getting up and walking around every hour or half hour. Even better is incorporating regular moderate to vigorous physical activity into the day. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (April, 2019)  shows that physically active people are less susceptible to the negative effects of sitting.

The authors conclude:

“Our comprehensive joint and stratified analyses on sitting, physical activity and mortality risk found that higher amounts of physical activity effectively eliminated the association of sitting time with ACM [all-cause mortality] and CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality risk. Replacing sitting with walking and VPA [vigorous intensity physical activity] is associated with the most consistent risk reductions. Reduction of sitting time is an important strategy, ancillary to increasing physical activity, for preventing cardiovascular disease and premature mortality in physically inactive populations.”

Physical Activity: How to Incorporate It Into Your Life

We know that everyone is working too hard these days. For many people, that means sitting in front of a computer. Even if you are retired, chances are good you check your email first thing, while you are sitting. You may watch the news or a movie on your tablet. The JAMA study found that people are using their electronic devices or computers for reading, watching movies, texting or sending email.

We interviewed Dr. Jordan Metzl about finding time to exercise. Dr. Metzl is an exercise guru. If you listen to this free podcast, we hope you will be motivated to take his advice to heart. Just click on the green arrow above his photograph or download the free mp3 file.

Show 1106: How to Find Time to Exercise

Share your own antidote to sitting in the comment section below. How do you find time to exercise?

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Show 1106: How to Find Time to Exercise
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If you find an activity you love, like tennis or dancing, and have friends who are counting on you, you are more likely to make time to exercise. Learn about the benefits of short bursts of activity.

Show 1106: How to Find Time to Exercise
  • Yang, L., et al. "Trends in Sedentary Behavior Among the US Population, 2001-2016," JAMA, April 23/30, 2019, doi:10.1001/jama.2019.3636
  • Stamatakis, E., et al. "Sitting Time, Physical Activity, and Risk of Mortality in Adults," JACC, April, 2019, DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2019.02.031
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I had a hip replacement 4/2017 which tore my gluteus medius and gluteus minimum, rendering me unable to walk without a cane for distances, left me with a limp (Trendelenberg gait), and resulted in strength and balance issues despite much physical therapy. I can’t get up a head of steam walking. Bottom line, other than using a recumbent bike, what else can I d?. I do PT exercises but any other ideas would be appreciated.

That’s a great idea! I’m going to start doing that, so thanks!

After eating, it’s best to walk around or at least stand, for one hr or more, to allow food to more easily pass through the stomach to the intestines and on.

After 40, ppl should take a digestive enzyme 5 min before eating, bc we make less digestive enzymes after 40. And if we’ve had antibiotics we may well not be making enough stomach acid either. Check Dr Google for instructions on how to determine if you are making enough stomach acid (HCL)

I have had 3 major surgeries in two years. If I had not done physical exercise prior, and continued with therapy after surgery, I would not be where I am today. I continue to walk, garden, do exercises etc. as I am determined to keep going. I also do a fair amount of baking to share with the residents where I live in a retirement community.

Next month I will turn 85 in May and one has to keep moving which is not always easy, but for me it is trying to stay out of a wheelchair.

I am an elderly person who works on genealogy which means hours at the computer. I set the timer on the range for 1 hour which makes me get up to turn it off and walk around a bit. Then I set it again.

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