Our bodies cry out for regular physical activity to function at the best level. We were designed to move. More and more research shows that lack of movement, or rather, too much sitting during the day, is detrimental to health and can reduce one’s life span.
Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for instance, showed that women who sit for ten or more hours a day might face a significantly greater risk of developing heart disease than those who sit for five hours or less. The surprising discovery is that even if you follow a regular exercise program, sitting too much will still contribute to poor health and premature death.
How Much Can Sitting Too Much Reduce Your Life Expectancy?
One study found that by reducing the average time you spend sitting down to less than three hours a day, you could increase your life expectancy by two more years.
Another study, published in Diabetologia, analyzed 18 studies that included nearly 800,000 people. They found that those who sat for the most prolonged periods were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease compared to those who sat the least. While prolonged sitting was linked to overall greater mortality risk from any cause, the most significant risk was the increased possibility of death due to diabetes.
According to lead researcher Thomas Yates, MD:
“Even for people who are otherwise active, sitting for long stretches seems to be an independent risk factor for conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.”
Shocking as it may seem, even if you’re physically active, riding your bike to work, or hitting the gym four or five days a week, you may still succumb to the effects of too much sitting if most of your day is spent behind a desk or on the couch. Researchers have dubbed this phenomenon the “active couch potato effect. “
Sitting is not harmful, but when you sit for too long without changing your position or moving much at all, that’s when problems begin. Doing so places you in what Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, calls “quasi-micro-gravity.”
Stand Up Every 10 Minutes
Dr. Vernikos discovered that the act of standing up is more effective than walking for counteracting the ill effects of sitting. The key is how many times you stand up. The findings were clear – standing up around 35 times a day can counteract the cardiovascular health risks associated with excessive sitting.
Dr. Vernikos tested two groups to see which was more effective, walking or standing, how long you would have to walk, or how many times you had to stand up to get better again. As hard as it might seem to believe, did you know that, according to Dr. Vernikos’ findings, if you stand up once every hour, this is even more effective than walking on a treadmill for 15 minutes for cardiovascular and metabolic changes?
So the suggestion is to get in the habit of standing up every 10 minutes or so. Set a timer on your phone or use an egg timer or alarm system to remind you to stand every 10 minutes, take a stretch and then sit back down again.
Even Low-intensity Workouts Can Add Years to Your Life
We all associate a long and healthy life with a high-intensity or cardio workout, but what is surprising is that even little physical activity can provide visible results. A new study conducted by Iowa State University suggests that running slowly for 5-10 minutes a day can positively affect your life expectancy by reducing cardiovascular mortality risk and even cancer. The research team, headed by Dr. Lee, also revealed that running for long periods could cause more harm than good, as it could cause bone or joint damage. In 2013, the findings published by the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology supported the claim that walking reduces heart risk as much as running
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While it is certain that we need further research to establish any adverse impact that vigorous workouts may have on our health, there is no doubt that mild exercise can bring substantial health benefits.
The Best Investment – Your Health
It goes without saying that “the best investment you can make is on your health.” However, there was no means to quantify how good investment health is until some years ago. Dr. I-Min Lee, a Harvard professor, in her paper titled: Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity And Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis, revealed that every minute spent exercising adds seven minutes to your life. That’s a whopping 1:7 return!
Before we wind up, here are a couple of other things that will take less than ten minutes and can still add years to your life.
- Flossing – No doubt, flossing helps with oral hygiene, but what does it have to do with prolonging one’s life? Well, the thing is, when you prevent inflammation of gums from bacterial infection, you are also protecting your arteries . The bacteria in your mouth eventually wind up in your arteries, causing plaques. When your immune response kicks in, they cause inflammation in both your mouth and arteries, which is just one of the many ways heart diseases are born.
For more information on how to care for your dental hygiene, read our article How To Take Care Of Your Teeth And Mouth
- Breathing techniques – Mental stress can have physical symptoms and effects. It would be best if you left your troubles behind in moments of pressure and at the end of the day. Breathing techniques and having moments of calm throughout the day can help to relieve both physical and mental stress. Doing so for even just a few minutes a day provides tremendous benefits for your health.
If you struggle with stress or managing your emotions, we can help. Learn more in our article Emotional Healing At The Budwig Center (Guide)
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The idea we wish to impart in this article is: to avoid a sedentary life at all costs. If your work involves you being cooped up behind a desk, get a standing desk and even consider trying “walking meetings” or dedicating some time for some light exercise before or after work. After all, what can be more important than spending a few minutes every day trying to make your life better and longer!
Note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and clarity.