whether it is while we are attending lectures, eating lunch, driving around, working on assignments, or watching television. In fact, it is probably safe to assume that you are sitting down while reading this.

David Dunstan, an associate professor as well as head of the Physical Activity laboratory and the Physical Activity Project Leader of the Healthy Lifestyle Research Centre at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, says that, “We have come to the reality now that we are a nation of sitters, and for many people they are sitting longer than they are actually sleeping.”

The YouTube video NextDesk: why sitting is killing you, posted by John Powers on 13 March 2013, notes that our bodies were not designed to spend all day sitting down. When you regard the activities of our ancestors you will realise that they spent most of their time standing, either hunting for food or tending to crops. Modern humans perform more than 90% of their daily activities sitting down and when combined, these activities can result in 80% of our waking hours spent sitting.

Obesity expert Dr James Levine, who directs the Active Life Research Team at Mayo Clinic in Florida, says research has associated long periods of sitting with numerous health problems such as obesity and metabolic syndromes. These in turn form a cluster of other problems that include high blood sugar, high blood pressure, weight gain around the waist and irregular cholesterol levels. Levine states that “too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer”. The article “Stand up for your healthin the September 2013 issue of Women’s Health claims that, “Women who sit for more than six hours a day have roughly 40% higher risk of dying from any cause, regardless of their fitness level, versus those who sit fewer than three hours.”

A recent study by Levine and the Active Life Research Team compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the television, or other equipment that requires you to sit like the computer, to adults who spent more than four hours a day seated. The results demonstrated that those who had greater sitting time had a roughly 50% increased risk of dying from any cause, and a 125% increased risk of problems linked to cardiovascular disease such as a heart attack or Angina (chest pains). Levine says that, “The increased risk was separated from other traditional risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as smoking or high blood pressure.”

You might assume that occasionally going to the gym would exclude you from the sitting disease, but according to Levine “spending a few hours at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity does not seem to significantly offset the risk”. Moving more overall seems to be the solution. Levine affirms that the activity in your muscles necessary for standing or other movement set off an important process linked with the breaking down of fats and sugar within the body. “When you sit, these processes stall and your health risks increase. When you are standing or actively moving, you kick the process back into action,” Levine says.

Women’s Health illustrates health problems associated with sitting and inactivity, which include damage to sleeping patterns, organs and even your brain. The publication explains that being inactive for long periods of time can cause fluid to accumulate in your lower legs and this is mainly due to “gravity and a lack of circulation”. The fluid stored in your legs moves toward the muscles and tissues in your neck while you are sleeping. This in turn may result in sleep apnea, where one has difficulty inhaling air and may even stop breathing for short amounts of time, leaving a person feeling like a zombie.

Prolonged sitting can also have a negative result on your behind. Women’s Health says, “A recent cell culture study found that when you sit for long periods of time, the weight your body puts on your fat cells actually encourages them to create twice as much fat – at a faster rate – as when you are standing.” Women’s Health also mentions that, “Prolonged sitting makes blood flow sluggish and more likely to cause blood clots, which can become lodged in your lungs.”

There are many ways to avoid constant sitting. Instead of sitting down while studying rather walk around the room with your book. This will not only help to avoid the sitting disease but it will also keep you active and focused. Stand up to the sitting disease.

Image: Tahnee Otto

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