I own a gym, and I train and compete in triathlon, so you would think I move around a lot, but the truth is I own a business – which means I sit…a lot.
More than I would like. There are days that, after my morning workout, I sit for 12 to 16 hours, and I am here to tell you; it hurts. It’s kind of like a big eraser, removing the benefit of the training I just did.
Muscles don’t recover properly, blood doesn’t flow well, nerves are numbed, circulation reduced.
It’s a problem.
Several studies have been done on people who sit a lot and those who don’t.
The results are alarming – and what gets me is that an hour a day of exercise cannot erase the damage of four-plus hours of sitting. While preparing for the Ultraman World Championships a few weeks ago, I ran for just over two hours during one of my training sets, but then I had work to do.
So, after a shower and food, I ended up sitting at the rental condo dining room chair for 10 hours working on the laptop. Ugh.
One study showed that people who sat at a desk or on a couch watching TV for more than four hours a day had an increase in death from all causes of over 50%!
Further, one hour of exercise had no impact on reversing that problem either. That’s staggering! Fifty percent!
In a study done by Dr. James Levine, a group of test subjects were all given a food allowance of 1,000 calories per day more than they needed.
Some of the subjects didn’t gain a thing over the period of the study, while others gained weight quickly and some to excess.
Clearly the food itself wasn’t the issue due to the random results, so Dr. Levine went about exploring further. He found that those who sat less than two hours a day, who moved around more, who fidgeted and unconsciously and essentially moved all day long, burned up the extra calories.
Conversely those that sat more than four hours per day, stored the extra calories as fat.
So why is this happening? The primary theory is that because our legs are the biggest muscles in our body, when we sit – we turn them off because they are not required.
That is a metabolic disaster! When your biggest muscles stop burning energy, stop flowing blood, stop creating circulation of fluids and turn off, your body will store fat, slow down and cause all manner of problems.
The studies showed increases in DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), cancer, diabetes, insulin resistance and fat stored around the midsection.
Another study, published in the online medical journal BMJ Open in July 2012, found that we could gain an estimated two years of life expectancy by reducing sitting to less than three hours a day, and gain 1.38 years in our life span by reducing television watching to less than two hours a day.
Turns out that television is actually a worse form of sitting than computer work, because we are actually less metabolically active while watching TV than while resting.
Likely because your brain is less active (your brain burns calories).
This isn’t new either, the Lancet – a prestigious medical journal, started doing studies of London bus drivers in the 50’s and noted that they had double the risk of heart attack when compared to non-sitting folks.
The next logical question becomes what can we do about it?
At work in my regular gym and home offices, I sit on a rubber ball chair called the Evo Chair: it’s like an exercise ball, on a frame that has wheels on it – so I can move around like a regular office chair. It isn’t perfect, but at least it creates movement in my legs.
Also, I try to make sure I get up for frequent breaks, and plan my day to have training clients spaced out to keep my sitting to a minimum when I can. Yes, I have days like I mentioned where I do a lot of computer work on planning and paperwork, so I need to improve that.
What else can we do?
There is a growing trend towards treadmill desks, so that you can walk while you work. Apparently this takes some getting used to (I can imagine!) but I can also see how it would really keep your legs active and bring you back towards our ancestral heritage of always moving.
You don’t need to get fancy either, a cheap treadmill with some basic supports will work. You can also raise the height of your desk and stand instead of sit – of course standing all day can cause varicose vein issues, so that’s not a great solution.
Ultimately the best bet is to MOVE.
Set a timer on your watch and every hour if you can, move for two to three minutes. Have an active lunch or coffee break. Make time to move and save your own life!
At the end of the day, if you are one of those people who exercises faithfully for an hour a day, but still cannot get rid of that belly fat – and you sit for more than four hours a day, this could be the secret change that not only saves your life, but gets you lean!
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and the owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.