Are You Sitting (too) Comfortably?

Are You Sitting (too) Comfortably?

By Millie Ramm wlr team

It all started off with a study in the '50s showing the difference in heart health between bus drivers and conductors, here's what the latest research has to say

Key Takeaways

  • New research suggests that sitting too much during down time could have serious health risks
  • Study shows that sitting at work does not have the same risks
  • Researchers evaluate whether regular exercise combats dangers of sitting

What's the problem?

Sitting: something we all do on a daily basis. We sit at our desks, on the sofa, in the car, at the table, in the bath... We all spend some part of each day sat down.

sitting too long
How sitting can affect your body

Studies from the 1950s onwards have looked into the health risks that sitting too much may cause. Very early on, a report was done on the health of London bus drivers and conductors.

They found that the annual rate of coronary heart disease was 2.7 per 1,000 in bus drivers and 1.9 per 1,000 in conductors. The researchers suggested it was because of the different levels of activity in the two jobs.

This sparked the debate of which types of sitting put people at risk? Why? And what is the best way to combat it?

In 2016, the American Heart Association also did a study into sitting. After compiling their data, they came to two conclusions:

  • Sitting does appear to contribute to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Due to a lack of data, all they could suggest was 'sit less, move more'.

AHA released another study in June 2019, giving us more info on our exercise to resting ratio. The author of the study, and lead researcher, Keith M. Diaz, PhD, explains that,

“[the] findings show that how you spend your time outside of work may matter more when it comes to heart health...even if you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time, replacing the time you spend sitting at home with strenuous exercise could reduce your risk of heart disease and health.”

The study compares the risks between different types of sedentary behaviour:

  • occupational sitting (at work, behind a desk, for example)
  • leisure sitting (watching television sat on the sofa, for examaple)

The data shows that people who spend 4 or more hours a day sat leisurely have a 50% greater risk of heart problems compared to people who watch for 2 hours. There was no such correlation with greater levels of occupational sitting. The reasons behind this are unclear, but Diaz says,

“it may be that most people tend to watch television for hours without moving while most workers get up from their desk frequently” and that, “the combination of eating a large meal such as dinner and then sitting for hours could also be particularly harmful.”

Not only does sitting add to our risks of serious diseases, but calorie wise it also doesn’t help...

Standing rather than sitting can burn anywhere between 29 and 49 more calories an hour. The study showed that the majority of their participants watched between 2 and 4 hours of TV a day. If they’d have been stood, not even exercising, but just stood, they could have burnt an extra 60 – 200 calories! ​

How can we combat our sitting habits?

Don’t panic.

We aren’t suggesting you stand up every time you want to watch a movie. But try standing when you take a call. Or going on a walk between episodes. All these little changes will benefit both your heart and your waistline!

There are two ways you can reduce the risks of sitting:

  • Regular exercise (60 to 75 minutes a day if possible!)
  • More movement (in and around the house is fine!)

The study found that exercise reduces risks associated with sitting. After releasing the study, Diaz said:

“almost any type of exercise that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster may be beneficial”.

Regular exercise

If you have the time, this is the best option. Both for your general health, your heart health, and your weight. Regular exercise has a plethora of benefits:

  • reduced risk of cardiovascular issues
  • lower blood cholesterol
  • lower blood pressure
  • stronger bones, muscles and joints

And now we know it combats all our lounging around! Plus, if you join a sports team or class, you may well make friends, too.

We know it isn't always easy to think of ways to get fit, so we've made a short list of suggestions for you:

  • Join a sports team! You're guaranteed exercise, a new skill, and the chance to meet new people!
  • Cycle or walk to work a few, if not every, days a week. This doesn't cut into your leisure time, but still gets your heart beating.
  • Join a fitness class. Zumba is hilarious, fun, and great exercise. Or there's calmer alternatives such as weight lifting.
  • Join your local gym!

There are plenty of ways to exercise that we haven't thought of. And any of them would work. Remember, anything that gets you breathing harder!

Couple exercise

Fidgeting helps!

If you're too busy for a fitness class, slipping in some more movement is simple. Even just fidgeting whilst watching television can help to some degree.

There's plenty of little ways to keep your body active whilst you rest or focus. We've compiled some ideas for you:

  • Use an app or activity tracker to make sure you’re moving
  • Put the remote on the TV so you have to get up to change the channel or volume
  • Use resistance bands to do foot or arm curls whilst watching TV
  • Spread the household chores throughout the day to make sure you have a reason to get up
  • Walk around the block between episodes
  • Download a streaming service app. Many sites like Netflix, NowTv and Amazon have a feature which allows you to download shows or films. Take your TV with you!

Or, if you'd rather just fidget, go ahead. Studies have shown that it helps protect the arteries in your legs and increase blood flow. Potentially helping to prevent arterial disease.

Researchers looked at 11 healthy young men and women, comparing their vascular leg function after 3 hours of sitting. Participants fidgeted one leg. They tapped one foot for 1 minute, and then rested for 4. On average they were moving their foot 250 times a minute.

At the end of the study, they found that the leg fidgeting had a better blood flow.

So there you have it. Next time someone moans at you for fidgeting, tell them you’re preventing arterial disease.

Get moving

So in summation, sit less, move more! If you’re sat all day at work, don’t panic, but if your evening plans involve a box set and cuddling into the sofa, maybe plan a walk first!

The benefit of this new information is that more exercise is bound to affect our waistlines! It's a win-win.

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