The Daily Deadly Activity You’re Probably Doing Right Now
September 6th, 2015 by Holly Cornish
Last year, I wrote to you about the hazards of sitting. Turns out, the evidence just continues to pile up, and it’s worse than we thought—especially for women. If you don’t start spending more time on your feet, the consequences will be dire. . .
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Who knew desk jobs were dangerous?
Here’s the new bad news about sitting: Women who sit more than six hours a day have a spiked risk (30 percent higher) of developing invasive breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and multiple myeloma (a blood cancer).
Women who sit less than three hours a day don’t have the same risk.
Not surprisingly, women who spend their leisure time sitting also faced a higher total cancer risk. There’s a ten percent increase in risk of developing any cancer for women who sit more than six hours a day.
Strangely enough, men don’t seem to be affected (but they’re not off the hook).
All of this is based on a new study published during the summer in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Epidemiologist Dr. Alpa Patel of the American Cancer Society and her team studied approximately 77,000 women and 70,000 men over a period of 17 years.
The project was called the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Survey cohort. Participants were cancer-free at the start of the study in 1992 and were followed through 2009. During that time, almost 31,000 participants developed cancer.
The higher cancer risk for women who sit too much held true even after adjusting for factors like weight and physical activity. And that’s one of the most surprising elements of all when it comes to this research.
You’d think that women who sit more get less daily exercise and so are less healthy overall, so maybe it makes sense that they’re more predisposed to cancer. Yet the study tried to control for the exercise variable, so there must be some other factor that comes into play when women sit. More research is underway to pinpoint what this factor may be.
What I also found surprising here is that most men did not appear to have an increased risk for cancer from sitting too much. Obese men saw the only notable risk—an 11 percent uptick in cancer risk if they sit all day.
Sit less, live longer
Probably the most sobering outcome of all this research is the fact that daily exercise won’t fix the problem. Previously, it seemed that an hour-long daily workout more or less canceled out the effects of sitting the rest of the day.
A study published earlier in the year in Annals of Internal Medicine reported that those who sit for long periods of time were 24 percent more likely to die during the course of the study—and that included those who tended to go in for some kind of physical activity after long periods of sitting.
Basically, sitting in excess is linked to dying younger even if you get a lot of physical activity.
But that’s not to say exercise isn’t valuable. Physical activity that elevates your heart rate is important, no question. And every little bit of exercise helps. But it doesn’t specifically reduce the increased risk of developing cancer that is linked to spending the bulk of your day on your behind.
And remember, it’s not just cancer risk that’s affected by sitting. A 2010 study led by Patel found that numerous other health conditions were affected by substantial daily sitting, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Patel’s study found that women who sat six or more hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die within 13 years compared to those who sat for three hours or less a day. For men who sat at least six hours a day, overall risk of dying over a 13-year period increased by 17 percent.
A lot of it seems to come down to the way your body is affected by metabolic chemicals that are altered when you sit a lot. These “metabolic consequences,” as Patel calls them, likely affect a host of chemical levels in your body, including triglycerides, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein, and leptin. All of these are biomarkers for obesity and cardiovascular health, among other chronic diseases.
Treating a “sitting habit” isn’t rocket science, but it does require going against the grain of what’s become our very sedentary Western culture. Don’t feel bad if you sit a lot; our culture promotes all the behaviors, ranging from the way most of us work at computers and desks to the way we relax in front of the tube or at movie theaters.
We also sit when we eat, we sit when we drive, and we sit when engaged in virtually any kind of appointment, from buying a car to getting a checkup. In fact, I wonder who the devil are these people who sit less than three hours a day!
All the same, those of us who find ourselves sitting so much should do something about it. For example:
- If you work at an office, walk over to your coworker’s desk instead of sending them an email.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Pace or stand during phone calls.
- Put a treadmill in front of your television.
- Take a two-minute walking break every hour.
- Park at the back of a parking lot so you walk more.
- Get off the bus one stop early.
- Make use of your smartphone and have it remind you to get up and move every 30 minutes.
Aim to never go longer than an hour sitting without taking a break to stand up and walk around. Even better, stand up every 30 minutes.
What should you aim for, sitting-wise? From the research quoted above, I’d say three hours a day or less. Remember, you’re sedentary all night long while you sleep, so that’s anywhere from nine to 12 hours a day your body is already inactive.
This certainly doesn’t mean you should be physically active the remaining 12 to 16 hours a day… but regular movement helps. Standing helps. In fact, no matter what your category of weight, it would be smart to lower your overall daily sitting time.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine recommends people stand at least two hours a day during working hours. You don’t have to do it all at once. Try breaking it up into small periods of standing or walking. (I wonder if we’ll soon see doctors prescribing set amounts of daily non-sitting? Wouldn’t be a bad thing.)
Additional research is underway, but I doubt it can tell us much more. The fact is, too much sitting has long-lasting, negative health consequences.
In our last issue, we talked about how to support the health of your most important organ for detoxification – your liver. This is stuff few people know, but it can save your life. If you missed it, we’re rerunning it just below.