You might not realize how often you sit each day. Whether you’re relaxing on the couch, driving to the grocery store, perched in front of your desk, or resting on a bench at the park, prolonged sitting is a threat to your health. Sitting may be comfortable and convenient in many situations, but it can lead to a variety of drastic, far-reaching health effects if you sit for too long each day. So stand up! Stretch your legs! Get moving! The dangers of sitting too much affect people of all ages, but older adults are especially at risk.
The Dangers of Sitting Too Much
Did you know that some scientists and healthcare professionals have begun using the term “sitting disease” to describe people who live sedentary lifestyles? That may sound drastic, but like a disease, sitting can lower life expectancy. It also increases a person’s risk of developing a variety of harmful conditions:
Decreased Flexibility and Mobility
If you sit for prolonged periods each day, you will likely experience decreased flexibility and mobility. You may lose muscle mass in your legs, which can hinder your ability to complete essential movements, like climbing stairs. In addition, you may experience back pain or suffer from weakened bones or decreased hip flexibility, which can increase your risk of a dangerous fall.
The body requires less energy when sitting than it does when standing, moving, or exercising. This can lead to excess body fat, especially around the waist. You can counteract some of the adverse effects of sitting through moderately intense exercise, but that will require 60 to 75 minutes of exercise per day (source).
A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which increase your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. If you want to get your blood pumping and exercise your heart, get on your feet.
Type II Diabetes
Did you know that when your body spends too much time seated, it actually needs to work harder to absorb sugar and make insulin? Inactivity also leads to weight gain, as we discussed above, which further increases your likelihood of developing type II diabetes. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one of the best things you can do to lower your risk of type II diabetes is to simply move more. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on five days of the week. If that sounds like a lot, try building up to your final goal over several weeks.
Finally, physical inactivity has been linked with certain cancers (source). According to the research, sedentary people were found to have a statistically significant higher risk for colon cancer, endometrial cancer, and lung cancer. Additionally, the risk heightened with each 2-hour increase in sitting time.
According to federal government statistics, about three-quarters of older Americans are sedentary. It’s understandable when you think about how many beloved activities typically involve sitting – watching TV, reading a book, going on a road-trip, completing puzzles, playing board games, reading the newspaper – but it also exposes us to the dangers of sitting too much. If you sit for long periods each day, try to use the following tips to reduce your sitting time:
- Break up sedentary periods by standing and walking around a bit.
- Set reminders on your phone to get up at regular intervals.
- Incorporate exercise into your schedule (30 minutes, five days a week).
- Try exercising during commercial breaks while watching TV.
- Look for opportunities to move more (take the stairs, park further from the store, etc.).
- Use a fitness tracker to gauge your activity level each day.
Take small steps toward your goals, and before you know it, you’ll look at sitting on the couch as a welcome respite instead of a standard routine.
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