What Happens to Your Body When You Sit All Day?

Evidence shows that prolonged sitting is devastating your health. It actively promotes dozens of chronic diseases, which includes becoming overweight and type 2 diabetes, even if you're very fit.

Studies looking at life in agriculture environments show that people in agrarian villages sit for about three hours a day. Meanwhile, the average office worker can sit for 13 to 15 hours a day, and research shows that vigorous exercise cannot counteract the adverse effects of this prolonged sitting.

Fortunately, the remedy is simple: Avoid sitting and get more movement into your life. The key is to exert your body against gravity. More than likely you can avoid most of the damage from excessive sitting if you sit less than three hours a day. 

While just about any movement will do, weight-bearing exercises are beneficial and suitable for most people regardless of fitness level, as is yoga. In addition, standing up as much as possible, preferably with a stand up desk, will greatly facilitate your ability to replicate ancestral movement patterns.

Why Sitting Causes So Much Harm, and Why Standing Promotes Physical Health

As explained by Dr. Levine, who has dedicated a good part of his career to investigating the health effects of sitting, when you've been sitting for a long period of time and then get up, a number of molecular cascades occur.

For example, within 90 seconds of standing up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol—which are mediated by insulin—are activated. 

Surprising as it may sound, all of these molecular effects are activated simply by carrying your bodyweight upon your legs. These cellular mechanisms are also responsible for pushing fuels into your cells and, if done regularly, will radically decrease your risk of diabetes and obesity.

In short, at the molecular level, the human body was designed to be active and on the move all day long. Stop moving for extended periods of time, and it's like telling your body it's time to shut down and prepare for death... As noted by Dr. Levine, while we clearly need to rest from time to time, that rest is supposed to break up activity—not the other way around. Inactivity—sitting—is not supposed to be a way of life. "This very unnatural [sitting] posture is not only bad for your back, your wrists, your arms, and your metabolism, but it actually switches off the fundamental fueling systems that integrate what's going on in the bloodstream with what goes on in the muscles and in the tissues," he says.

As a consequence of sitting, your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and toxic buildup all rise. The solution to these adverse events do not involve a prescription—all you need to do is get up, and avoid sitting down as much as possible. Since most of us live lives that revolve around an office chair, a car seat, and the couch, most will need to figure out how to eliminate many hours of sitting every day. As a general starting guideline, Dr. Levine suggests standing up for at least 10 minutes each hour. If you've been sitting down for a full hour, you've sat too long.

Make Walking a Part of Your Daily Routine

I've previously recommended standing up and doing exercises at your desk every 10-15 minutes to counteract the ill effects of sitting, but after discussing the issue with Dr. Levine and reading his book, I'm convinced that's still insufficient. I really think the answer is to stand up as much as possible. Standing for 10 minutes for every hour of sitting is really the bare minimum. It would seem far wiser to strive to sit as little as possible, certainly less than three hours a day.

Set aside time at a specific time of day to walk, or go about your daily tasks on foot. Walk your dog; pick up your groseries on foot. If you can routinize it, you’re more likely to keep doing it.

Bodyweight Training

All you need to perform these gravity-driven exercises is your own body. Acting against gravity, the weight of your body provides all the resistance needed to help you get fit, and you don't need a personal trainer to design the perfect system either. Benefits include all-around muscle development and strength, cardiovascular fitness, improved balance, and flexibility. 

Powerful Yoga Moves

Yoga is another form of exercise in which you're exerting yourself against gravity. And while it's certainly great for increasing flexibility, its benefits do not end there. Yoga also helps build strength and improve muscle tone. According to a new review of 37 clinical trials, the evidence also suggests it can help improve heart health by reducing known risk factors for heart disease, such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels

Natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola


Sources and References:

NPR April 25, 2011

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise May 2010, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 879-885