Sitting yourself up for health problems
In the 1950s, a startling piece of research showed that London bus drivers were twice as likely to have a heart attack as the conductors working on the same buses. Ever since then, debate has increased as to just what impact sitting for too long can have on our bodies.
Unsurprisingly, people who sit for too long and do very little exercise have increased risks of various health problems. However, reports now suggest that even trying to get active to offset those sedentary hours may not be enough to reverse the trend, so just what is the truth behind the headlines?
What is 'sitting for too long'?
In the UK, there are many guidelines to tell us how much exercise we should be doing, what our diets should contain and how much water we should be drinking. However, very little advice exists on how much time we should spend sitting every day. An average adult in the UK spends between seven and ten hours a day sitting or lying. Although it is not known if this is too much in itself, experts advise that people should get up and take a break from sitting every 30 minutes, even just for a minute at a time.
What does sitting do?
A 2012 study of more than 800,000 people, undertaken by two major Leicestershire universities, discovered that people who sit for long periods are more than twice as likely to develop diabetes, and two and a half times more likely to have a heart attack. It is thought this happens because spending long periods sitting can interfere with a person's insulin levels, and this is a hormone that helps govern how the body controls its sugar levels. Poor control of blood sugar levels can itself be a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.
As well as this, being sedentary increases a person's risk of being overweight, or getting certain types of cancer, and people who sit for long periods are 50% more likely to die prematurely from any cause than people who don't.
Does exercise make the difference?
It was thought until recently that regular exercise would completely reverse the risks caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Although it is definitely better to have exercise as part of your weekly routine than to avoid it, sitting for too long is now considered as a separate risk factor for certain illnesses. This means that exercising alone will not compensate for the rest of time that a person spends sat down. Therefore, it is more important to focus on regular movement throughout the day rather than short bursts of activity.
So what can I do?
Scientists have likened getting up from sitting to revving a car's engine, in that it helps to keep bodily functions ticking over as they should. Easy interventions, such as setting a phone reminder to get up every 30 minutes, choosing to stand on a train or bus, or walking to a colleagues desk rather than emailing them can all help to increase time spent on your feet, and decrease your chance of unwanted health complications.