The Perils Of Sitting (Yes, I Did Say “Perils”)

Sitting must be less dangerous than hang gliding, right? Surly it’s not as dangerous as rock climbing or snow boarding. Swimming is more dangerous than sitting, especially if you’re diving. Or not? How can sitting be perilous at all? And how can this be a newsworthy topic?

Turns out, the dangers of sitting are much greater than I would have imagined. Maybe if I thought of it as a “sedentary lifestyle,” I might have recognized the problem more quickly. These days, there are scientists and researchers who have devoted quite a lot of energy to studying the effects of inactivity, mostly sitting while working or watching television.


You may think that you don’t have to worry about this sitting issue if you’re maintaining a healthy weight or if you have a regular workout habit. But studies indicate that sitting for several hours a day is a risk factor for all sorts of ills, all by itself.  This New York Times article calls sitting an “independent pathology” and a “lethal activity.”  My husband recently told me, in disbelief, that he had read “sitting is the new smoking.”

As tempting as it may at times seem, we can’t all become farmers or construction workers or tour guides. Some of us are going to have to work at computers, or otherwise spend lots of time at some sort of desk. Is there any hope for us, I wondered?

I’ve been working with some of my clients on the question of how to combat this issue, and we’ve come up with a few solutions. Personally, I like to sip water and herbal tea during much of the day, which means I am making trips to the bathroom, as well as getting up to refill my drink. I’m up about every 15 or 20 minutes, which is really helpful. While I’m up, I often do a little stretching. I’m talking no more than 10 seconds, but it makes a big difference.

One of my clients who works at home likes to do laundry and similar chores which are time sensitive. This requires her to change levels in her home – taking the stairs – at regular intervals. She also takes a quick stretch break from time to time.

If you want to actually try to reduce the amount of time sitting while working at your desk, there are ways to do this, too. I often set my computer in a spot where I can easily read or work from a standing position. There are even desks designed to be used while standing. If you are in the corporate world, you probably already know about these.

Jeff has a nice article about standing desks.

Jeff has a nice article about standing desks.

Want to take it a step further? (Pun intended, okay?) There are now desks that are tread mills. I read a few articles on this type of desk in preparation for this post, and found a variety of responses from those who are testing them. I read a really positive response first, so I was a little surprised to see a pretty negative one next. This article from Business Insider has a little video of what happened when they tried such a desk at their office. I found it entertaining (I am a health geek, after all.)

Perhaps my favorite solution to the problem of excessive sitting during the work week appeared in this Huffington Post article. The idea is to have meetings while walking together, rather than in a conference room or over coffee. The author reports logging quite a few miles of walking each week as she meets with others. Brilliant!

It won’t work for every meeting, of course. But what if I could do that a couple of times, and employ some of the other strategies during the rest of the week? According to what I’ve been reading lately, I’ll have a much better chance of warding off obesity, insulin resistance, heart problems, and a host of other medical concerns. What about you? If you have a great answer to this issue, I’d love to hear about it!


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