Are you sitting down to read this? You might want to stand up.
Why? Because two new studies confirm a sneaking suspicion scientists have had for a while: sitting shortens your life. So what’s wrong with sitting? It seems pretty tame, right? The problem is that the human body is made for motion. Your digestion and metabolism depend on movement, especially skeletal muscle contractions in the large muscles of the legs. When muscles aren’t working, they don’t need as much fuel, so surplus energy accumulates in the form of blood sugar in your blood stream. And that’s what you don’t want – high blood sugar contributes to the risk of developing diabetes and other health issues.
The first new sitting study took place in Australia. Researchers found that it was easier to ask people how much time they’d spent watching TV each day than it was to ask them to estimate how much time they’d spent sitting. People were more likely to remember what shows they watched and how long they were than exactly how much total time they might have spent sitting. So researchers used TV-watching time as their measure.
They found that, altogether, Australians viewed a total of 9.8 billion hours of television in one year. And they stud revealed something pretty shocking. Each hour spent watching television after the age of 25 shortened a person’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. For a little comparison, every cigarette smoked reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes. Overall, adults who spend an average of six hours per day watching TV will live about 4.8 years fewer than adults who do not watch TV.
Say what?! Sitting is worse for you than smoking cigarettes. I never saw that one coming. And another study supports these results. This second study measured total daily sitting time – not just TV watching time. Researchers discovered that the average person spends 50 to 70 percent of their time sitting. Participants who sat the most had a 112 percent greater chance of developing diabetes, 147 percent increase in their risk of developing heart disease, and 49 percent greater chance of dying young. That includes people who regularly exercised.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m freaked out. As college students, we spend lots of time sitting. A lot of the time, like in class, we don’t have a choice! And if exercising doesn’t counteract the effects of too much sitting, what can we do?
The doctors who conducted these studies say that exercise is still beneficial for health – so don’t cancel your gym membership because you’re doomed to sit! They suggest that you do simple things like put your garbage can far away from you, so you have to get up to throw things away. Stand up for coffee/water breaks or to answer phone calls. Stand on the bus or subway, even if you have the option to sit.
And, yes – you’re also supposed to cut down your time spent on the computer or watching TV. Good luck with that one.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.