“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
This is the ominous warning from Dr. James Levine, director of Mayo Clinic in his interview with the LA Times.
Dubbed as the “Sitting Disease” by the scientific community, let’s check out some of the latest statistics in 2019 on sedentary lifestyle and sitting that will hopefully get you off of your chair and moving more.
1. One in four American adults spend more than eight hours a day sitting
According to the latest federal research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 Americans sit for more than 8 hours a day. A summary of the findings:
- 25 of Americans spend more than 8 hours a day sitting.
- 44% report doing no moderate to vigorous physical activity at all weekly.
- 11% spend 8 hours or more a day sitting whilst doing little leisure-time physical activity.
- Only 4% spend less than 4 hours a day sitting while being active as well.
2. A sedentary lifestyle increases death rate by 71%
A 2010 study with 184,190 participants reported that people who spent more than 6 hours per day sitting with low levels of physical activity have a 71% increase in mortality rate.
Even more alarmly, another comprehensive study showed that even with 4-7 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly, sitting for 5-6 hours a day watching TV still increases mortality rate by 50%.
The takeaway is that physically activity does not completely offset the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle centered around sitting.
3. The US ranks 143 out of 168 Countries in Physical Fitness
When it comes to physical activity, according to a UN report, the US ranks near the bottom, coming in at 143 out of all 168 surveyed countries.
40% of Americans do not meet the minimum suggested guidelines for physical activity (2.5 hours of moderate activity weekly).
The 5 least physically active countries are:
- Saudi Arabia
- Costa Rica
In Kuwait, over 67% of the population do not meet the minimum level of suggested physical activity.
On the flip side, some of the most physically active countries are:
In Uganda, only 5.5% of the population do not meet the minimum level of suggested physical activity.
3. Women are more likely to be Physically Inactive than Men
In almost every country, women are more likely to lack sufficient physical activity compared to men, according to an extensive UN report.
In 159 of 168 countries surveyed, the prevalence of insufficient physical activity was 10% or higher in women compared to men. In 9 countries, the difference is a startling 20% or higher.
These alarming numbers show the need for women to focus more on making physical activity a priority in their lives.
4. 6% of Deaths Globally are linked to Physical Inactivity
So what are the risks of sitting for too long and living a sedentary lifestyle? Well, you have nothing but a dramatic increase in risk of developing chronic conditions and even death to look forward to.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. It accounts for:
- 6% of deaths globally
- 22% of heart disease
- 22% of colon cancer
- 12% diabetes and hypertension
5. People who sit for 30 minutes or less at a time have a 55% lower risk of death compared to those who sit longer
Keith Diaz, an associate research scientist at Columbia University Department of Medicine who headed the research about Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in the U.S., said in his interview that the duration of sitting sessions can greatly influence the risk of premature death.
In their study of almost 8,000 adults, they found that people who sat in 30-minute stretches had a 55% lower death risk compared to those that sat for longer periods at a time.
At the same time, people that often sit at for more than 90 minutes at a time have a nearly two-fold greater risk of death.
Even worse, the study also found that the time spent sitting increases total mortality, regardless of physical activity level. This means that there’s still a high risk of premature death despite regular exercise. The key lies in actually reducing the time spent sitting. Of course, people who are still physically active still have better odds than those who aren’t.
6. Cardiovascular disease risk goes up by 147% for people with high levels of sedentary behavior
Now, let’s talk about how a sedentary lifestyle can cause premature death.
One of the conditions most associated with lack of physical activity is heart disease. In fact, according to an analysis of several studies, high levels of sedentary behavior increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 147%.
Based on research called Sedentary Behavior and Subclinical Cardiac Injury, sitting all day can cause troponin buildup. This is a protein that the heart muscle cells release when they get damaged. People who sit more than 10 hours daily have higher troponin levels. Not enough to cause a heart attack, but still quite high that researchers have dubbed it as “subclinical cardiac injury.”
Aside from troponin buildup, another reason for this high risk of cardiovascular disease is obesity. The more inactive people are, the harder it is to manage their weight.
7. Sedentary behavior increases the risk of some types of cancer by up to 66%
- Increases risk of colon cancer by 24%
- Increases risk of endometrial cancer by 66%
- Increases risk of lung cancer by 21%
Additionally, each 2-hour increase in sitting time increases the risk of colon cancer by 8%, endometrial cancer by 10%, and lung cancer by 6%.
When the researchers took a closer look at common sedentary pursuits, watching TV stood out, showing a 54% higher risk of colon cancer and a 66% greater risk of endometrial cancer.
8. Sitting for long periods of time is linked to a 112% increase in the risk of diabetes
Aside from cardiovascular disease and cancer, another common condition linked to a sedentary lifestyle is diabetes. Being sedentary can have negative effects on one’s glucose levels and increases insulin resistance.
Frequent uninterrupted bouts of sitting can increase your chances of developing diabetes by 112%. The researches even say that, among the different chronic conditions, diabetes is the most consistent when it comes to the strength of association to long periods of sitting.
9. People who sit for more than 7 hours per day or more are much more likely to develop depression, dementia and alzheimers
According to a study of 8,950 middle-aged women, sitting for more than 7 hours daily increases the risk of depression by 47% compared to those who only sit for 4 hours a day or less. The decrease in blood circulation makes it harder for happiness hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin to reach receptors.
A lack of regular exercise and prolonged sitting has also been linked to dementia and alzheimers. A study by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found that a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of developing alzheimers by up to 12 times, on par with people genetically predisposed to developing Alzhemiers due to possession of the APOE e4 gene.
10. Since 1950, sedentary jobs have increased by 83%
Due to technology, what used to be physically active jobs are now either done by robots or made easier by automation. This has greatly contributed to the sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity of the majority of people today.
In fact, the American Heart Association reported that only 20% of the current workforce possess physically active jobs. Additionally, sedentary jobs have seen an 83% increase since 1950.
11. Moving just 2 minutes every hour can decrease premature death risks by 33%.
Offsetting the negative effects of prolonged sitting can start with just 2 minutes every hour.
According to a study by the University Of Utah School Of Medicine, just two minutes of physical activity for every hour of sitting can lower the risk of premature death by as much as 33%.
You can spend this time stretching, walking, going for a bathroom break, or getting more water to prevent dehydration. To make it easier for you to remember to take this much needed 2-minute break, you can use an extension like Healthy Browsing if you’re a Chrome user. Otherwise, the simplest and easiest way to do it is to set phone alarms.
12. Recommended Physical Activity Guidelines
The ODPHP released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition in 2018. It describes the recommended physical activity guidelines for different ages and situations and is as follows:
- Preschool children under 5 years should be physically active throughout the day.
- Children and adolescents who are 6 to 17 years old need to do at least 1 hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. This should include aerobic and muscle and bone-strengthening activities.
- Adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity.
- Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week with consideration for existing conditions.
- Pregnant and post-partum women should consult their obstetrician and if possible, do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread out through the week.
Note that these are all just guidelines. You can do more to reap more health benefits or do less if you have existing conditions that hamper your ability to move.
Even when you’re sitting, there are things you can do to bring micro movements to your body, lessening its negative impact. Some of them are:
- Pause and perform desk stretches and exercises often to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic neck and back pain. Targeted back stretches can be especially helpful for back pain.
- Squat from time to time in front of a low desk, which has been found to be much better than sitting at inducing muscle activity.
- Stand from time to time when working. The golden ratio between sitting and standing lies between 1:1 to 1:3 according to a ground breaking research from Waterloo.
- Alternate between a regular ergonomic chair and more active sitting solutions such as a rocking kneeling chair or balance ball chair throughout the day.