Scientists and researchers spend millions of dollars each year on studies of how smoking is a deadly habit. I think we have all come to accept the overwhelming evidence that smoking can and does damage the lungs. While more studies continue to flow, the general public does not seem to be bouncing back as quickly as one would expect. While smoking has been on the decline for over a decade, why are humans still struggling with heart disease, anxiety, diabetes, and a host of muscular and respiratory problems?
We have created cures for a long list of diseases and found ways to transplant failing organs. These measures alone should have put us on the fast track for longer lives. But still, our physical ailments continue to rise at an alarming rate.
Is Sitting the New Smoking?
While we have proudly been patting ourselves on the back for our good work of eliminating smoking from much of our society, are we overlooking the pink elephant that is sitting in the room? Professor James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, said it best when pointing out a bigger danger than smoking.
In an interview with the LA Times, Dr. Levine made a bold statement that researchers are now beginning to notice.
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking,” stated Dr. Levine. “It kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting.”
Statistics have now begun to hit the medical journals by experts that have seen a certain amount of reasoning behind Professor Levine’s thoughts.
“Metabolism slows down 90% after minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent,” says Dr. Deborah Rohm, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena, California.
Studies of Sitting versus Standing and Moving
There has been a growing interest in changing how people perform their office duties by changing from a sitting to a standing position. While singling out this change, there proved to be little difference in the position without regular exercise. Instead of suffering from a stiff neck and shoulders, cramps in legs and feet increased.
So back to the studies of being in a sitting position, a lot more attention has been analyzed and released in recent years. For example, in 2010, a paper was published on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention government website that lay claim that for every hour a person spends sitting over a seven-year period, their risk of dying sooner increases by 11%. This can be a disturbing statistic, but even more alarming is the fact that if the average person began decreasing their sitting time to only three hours per day, their life expectancy would climb by two years.
Areas of Health Concerns
The areas of concern of the human body seem to follow the onset of rising problems in today’s society.
Anxiety and Depression
The mental health link has not been studied in depth like the physical attributes, but the warning sign does exist that those who spend more time sitting in their job have a higher rate of anxiety and depression than those who have a day of physical activity and fitness.
Type 2 diabetes is a growing concern among Americans. Without actual measurements, it has been proven that individuals that lie in bed for five days have an increased insulin resistance. Compared to the stifled movement of sitting at a desk, it can be said that those with a sitting job have a 112% higher risk of contracting type 2 diabetes.
Hip and Back Concerns
Sitting for long periods of time puts increased pressure on the spine and results in weakened glutes. In turn, less pushing power from the legs and hips is realized. This type of poor posture shortens and tightens the hip flexors, making one less flexible, weaker, shorter, and less mobile. The nervous system tries to compensate and as a result, your gait slows.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis or DVT develops in the legs from lack of blood flow. This can turn into a serious problem as a clot can break off and travel to different areas of the body through the bloodstream. Hardly ever associated with sitting, it is the major cause of a pulmonary embolism. This type of complication can lead to death if not treated immediately.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
A newly released study has been gaining popularity with a sedentary lifestyle and the development of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. According to the journal, PLOS ONE, Prabha Siddarth of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, published his findings of the close resemblance of thinner medial temporal lobes and sitting long hours. This area of the brain is responsible for creating and storing memories. Measured by MRI before and after sedentary activity, the thickness of the lobes was found to be decreased significantly. People in the age group of 45 to 75 were studied in this program.
The correlation between sitting and heart disease was found much earlier but was not discovered until much later. In 1953, a study was done on London bus drivers that compared heart disease to those that stood and those who sat while driving. There were far more heart attacks found in the bus drivers that sat as compared to those that stood. Since then, more studies are being conducted with concerns to the heart.
More recently, in 2010, the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health reported that there was a 64% increase in heart disease among men that had 23 hours of sedentary activity per week as compared to 11 hours per week.
Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada estimates that 173,000 cases of cancer in the United States are due to inactivity, mainly in breast cancer and colon cancer. While these tests have still proven to be inconclusive, scientists have determined that the marker C-reactive protein is in higher levels than those that sit for long periods of time.
What the Experts have to Say
“We weren’t designed to sit,” comments Dr. Joan Vemikos of NASA’s Life Sciences Division. “The body is a perpetual motion machine.”
From the American Diabetes Association, “For both men and women, sitting time is detrimentally associated with waist circumference, BMI, systolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and fasting triglycerides. “Professor Marc Hamilton, Pennington Biomedical Research Center offers, “We see it in people who smoke and people who don’t. We see it in people who are regular exercisers and those who aren’t. Sitting is an independent risk factor.”
And finally, “You cannot offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise,” says scientist Katy Bowman.
So what is the answer to this new problem of declining health? The first hurdle has been jumped by accepting the fact that there is a real problem. The second part of resolving the issue will come from our offspring as they realize just how bad sitting has become. Maybe part exercise at work, part standing during desk time, or researching international methods of better health.
Japan has never swayed from their concept that performing communal exercises at work, in the name of health and productivity, has been working for decades. All of the answers are not expected to happen overnight. However, understanding that our health and longevity lie in the balance of what future generations do, gives us hope that we are on the right track.
Becoming active is not as difficult as one might think. Hobbies, sports, outdoor activities, and games were once the normal type of weekend fun that we used to share. Getting back to thinking as a movement as a plus could be the beginning of becoming more fit and feeling better. Even without direction from a company that you work for, take the initiative to keep your body stimulated with walking, exercises, and adding steps to your day.
Children learn from watching adults. Remove the notion that it is okay to spend six hours a day in front of the tv or video game and offer alternatives that can cut this time in half. Half of all children ages two to seventeen own a television, game console, or computer in their bedrooms. Think about changing this and design a schedule with no room for downtime, except to sleep.
It is a great success to be rid of smoking on many fronts. Keep the good work flowing through even further changes that need to be made.