Monday, June 24, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: Your Butt is Killing You

by Bill Adler

Pretty much literally it's true: Sitting is killing you.

How bad? Prolonged sitting --and we're not just talking TV here, but regular at-work sitting-- contributes to an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer. That's right: Your daily grind increases your risk of cancer. There are an estimated 92,000 cancers a year just from sitting (

Some of this information is as surprising as it is important, so I'll pop in a link for further reading, if you want that proverbial kick in the seat of the pants to stay healthy. Here's a good summary of what we know about sitting from the New York Times:

For every cigarette smoked, scientists estimate that you lose 11 minutes of life. But for every hour you spend sitting, you die 22 minutes sooner. Add up the hours. Do the math.

Here's how the New York Times put it, if you're rather just read and not click on the article:

"Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives."

And the really bad news: Exercise doesn't counteract the detrimental effects of sitting. Exercise is good. Do it. Do it often. Do it strenuously. But don't rely on exercise to add those 22 minutes per hour back, because it won't.

Sitting changes the enzymes that your body produces and causes a wide range of negative effects, including increasing insulin resistance. You have fewer butt muscle contractions while sitting, which also affects your body in global ways.

What can you do about this mess, because there are lots of circumstances where you have to sit? The office, jury duty, on airplanes, at conferences, during meetings, at the movies, and in restaurants, for example, are places where pacing back and forth are frowned on.

But when you think about it, there are actually few circumstances where you absolutely must sit for twenty or thirty nonstop minutes or longer. Unless you're in one of those situations, get up. Take a break and get off your butt. How long a break? The longer the better.

Also stand whenever you can. Sure it's relaxing to sit on the bus or train, but you'll sometimes notice a few people who stand even when there are seats available. They look healthy and fit, don't they? That's probably because they've already figured out this whole sitting and health thing and stand whenever they can.

Stand when you're on the phone. The cord's long enough, assuming you even use a corded phone. Stand when you're texting. Stand when you're thinking because there's no correlation between sitting on your behind and thinking creative, clever, inspired thoughts. If your workplace allows, get a standing desk to accompany your regular sitting desk.

So, will you? Most of us won't change our sitting behavior because we're lazy and don't want to, because we're too locked into our regular life habits and those habits including sitting at our desk and not getting up until it's lunch time, because we think that this sitting thing is one of those invisible dangers that might affect others, but not us, or because we simply don't believe it. Science is often wrong, after all.

Not this time. Science is often wrong, but then after that first study comes another and another and another, and when good science is followed by more good science, that tells us that something's  true.

I like the way Atlantic magazine wrote the headline for their article on sitting and health, because that sums it up: "Confirmed: He Who Sits the Most Dies the Soonest." Think about it. Just don't think about it on your butt.


Bill Adler is a writer. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets,", "Outwitting Squirrels,", and a mess of other books. He tweets at @billadler. Fire Breathing Toaster is published on Mondays.

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