Sitting is the new smoking? Combatting your daily sit!
The modern lifestyle and it's effect on the body is a much discussed topic in the media and clinic these days as clients and beyond are "forced" to spend longer and longer in seated positions for work and commuting reasons. Often, this is compounded by sedentary lifestyles at home. Quick disclaimer, I am sitting down writing this article now so I am by no means exempt from this modern day curse. I also spend ever increasing periods of time sitting at work now too as the burden of paperwork ever increases. Does this mean we just give up and accept whatever fate befalls our health as a result? Well, recent research into this area gives us all hope.
An article from 2015 (Pulsford et al 2015) came to my attention last week on the effect of sitting behaviour on various health factors. Why this one in particular? Well they reported that increased sitting behaviour DID NOT affect any mortality related measures after a 16 year follow-up. WOW. So it does not matter how long you sit at work, your health will be ok. Well..not exactly.
Numerous other studies into this area have shown the past that sitting behaviour, often measured in work and leisure related time sitting, place you at greater risk of a range of health problems including bowel cancers (1), obesity (2, 3, 4) and cardiovascular disease (5). Hence why the aforementioned study pricked my ears! I should add this study is not the only one to refute the link in the past, like all research there are plenty conflicting reports. However, this one is of interest in terms of giving us an insight into a strategy on how to be more like the participants in this study than the ones above.
So how did this group of office-based workers manage to buck the trend when it came to the negative impact of sitting? Well, the study focussed on a particular group of civil servants in central London. Well it wasn't a shorter commute. They commuted for the same time, if not longer than other study participants. They also didn't sit at work any less. They sat for as long, if not longer than some studies. So they must have been doing something different right? Well yes.
Generally speaking, they did not commute by car. The authors proposed that perhaps the influence of working in central London meant that workers opted to instead walk or cycle to work. The ones that did not certainly may have had increased walking time through the undergrounds and train stations of London and the surrounding area. They also noted that, although comparison to other studies was difficult, it may have been that these workers participated in more social/recreational activities after work.
So what can we learn from this study? Perhaps we should not give up and just accept our chosen profession is going to affect our health. Maybe the most important thing is not what we do at work but what we do away from work. Can we cycle to work a couple times a week? Can we take a walk in the evenings? Can we finally get that 5-a-side game organised? Try standing on the bus to work. Try getting off three stops earlier and walking the rest to work. The options are endless. Find something that works for you. Make a small change today that you know you can commit to going forwards. Make a resolution today that you will walk one stop of your daily commute everyday. Every little helps.
So that deals with your health. Your heart, your lungs, your metabolism, your weight. Small changes that add up to make a BIG difference. What about your joints? What about your muscles? What impact does sitting have on your performance and your injury risk. Stay tuned for part two of the blog where we address this.
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1. Levi F, Pasche C, Lucchini F, Tavani A, La VC. Occupational and leisure-time physical activity and the risk of colorectal cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev 1999;8(6):487–93.
2. Tudor-Locke C, Burton NW, Brown WJ. Leisure-time physical activity and occupational sitting: associations with steps/day and BMI in 54 –59 year old Australian women. Prev Med 2009;48(1):64 – 8.
Ishizaki M, Morikawa Y, Nakagawa H, et al. The influence of work characteristics on body mass index and waist to hip ratio in Japanese employees. Ind Health 2004;42(1):41–9.
3. Mummery WK, Schofıeld GM, Steele R, Eakin EG, Brown WJ. Occu- pational sitting time and overweight and obesity in Australian workers. Am J Prev Med 2005;29(2):91–7.
4. Ishizaki M, Morikawa Y, Nakagawa H, et al. The influence of work characteristics on body mass index and waist to hip ratio in Japanese employees. Ind Health 2004;42(1):41–9.
5. Hu G, Jousilahti P, Borodulin K, et al. Occupational, commuting and leisure-time physical activity in relation to coronary heart disease among middle-aged Finnish men and women. Atherosclerosis 2007;194(2):490 –7.