No, it’s not smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating junk food I’m talking about; although reducing these things can add years to your life.
You know what it is? Answer: Sitting for more than six hours per day!
We are living in a society that encourages prolonged sitting, thanks to computers. Most jobs require it. Using the computer at home to surf the web, check bank accounts, shop, etc. requires it. School requires it. Going to restaurants and coffee shops require sitting. Evidence is showing that prolonged sitting promotes disease, malady and death in epidemic proportions.
The latest study examining the relationship to prolonged sitting and morbidity tracked over 53,440 men and 69,776 women, with no history of heart disease, lung disease or cancer, over the course of 14 years. Study participants reported if they sat less than 3 hours per day total, or over six hours per day, total. The authors identified 11,307 deaths in men and 7,923 deaths in women during the 14-year follow-up.
The results showed that women who sat the most were 37% likely to die, and for men who sat the most, they were 18% more likely to die than the rest of the study participants. The association remained virtually unchanged after adjusting for physical activity level; meaning, a woman who sat for more than six hours a day who exercised regularly still had the same chance of dying than a woman who sat for more than six hours per day and did not exercise regularly.
Numerous other studies done in the past show that prolonged time spent sitting, independent of physical activity, affects metabolism and may adversely influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol) fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin, which are biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
It is clear by now that prolonged sitting, which can be defined as over four hours per day, is a threat to your health. There needs to be more public health announcements on this because the facts are indisputable. Imagine the billions of dollars in health care costs that we as a country can realize if everyone knew not to sit too long, as well as all the lives that can be saved.
If you are in a job that requires prolonged sitting, I suggest that you print out a summary of the study (link below) and show it to your supervisor. Tell him or her that you take this seriously, and you must be allowed to stand up and walk at least once an hour, for 15 minutes. Or, stand up and walk every 15 minutes of sitting, for about five minutes. Alternatively, ask for a stand up desk to avoid prolonged sitting altogether.
Reference: “Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults.” Alpa V. Patel, et al.