Beware the Chair!

Small things can make a big difference.  Like a mosquito in the room when you’re trying to fall asleep.  Or a reassuring word by a friend.  Or a smile from a stranger.  Or standing up and moving around every 20-30 minutes – just wandering around for two minutes will do — you don’t have to do tuck jumps over your desk!  What difference will this make to anything?

Researchers at the Australian National University and Sydney University recently discovered a direct link between hours of uninterrupted sitting and likelihood of early death!

Professor Emily Banks and Associate Professor David Dunstan followed 200 000 people aged 45 and over for a 3 year period and found that those who sat for 11 or more hours a day, had a 40% increased risk of early death compared to those who sat for less than 4 hours a day.  Those who sat for 8 hours a day, were 15% more likely to die early.  And scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana analysed the lifestyles of more than 17,000 men and women for 13 years, and found that people who sit for most of the day are 54% more likely to die of heart attacks.

The bad news is that an hour at the gym before or after 11 hours of sitting does not counteract the negative effects of sitting.  However, getting up out of your chair every 20 minutes to simply stretch your legs and move for 2 minutes, DOES cancel out the health hazards of sitting!  That’s great news!

We still need our 30-60 minutes of exercise a day, but on top of that we need to stand up regularly.  Prolonged sitting disrupts metabolic functions resulting in lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol), higher levels of triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol), and reduced insulin sensitivity.  After an hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat in the body declines by up to 90%!  In particular, scientists at the University of Missouri identified that the act of sitting shuts off the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, contributing to the development of obesity.  We need muscle contraction to regulate the chemical processes in our bodies, otherwise things stagnate and stall.

It’s interesting not note that in the 19th and 20th centuries, office workers mostly stood.  Sitting was what you did when you took a break.  And Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci and novelist Vladimir Nabokov all advocated standing to improve creativity and concentration.  It certainly worked for them!

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