If you're like me and the pounds have been hard to get off lately, maybe you have sitting disease.
Yes, there really is such an disease. And it's reached epidemic proportions, linked to all sorts of other ailments, the first and foremost of which is obesity.
Blame it on our sedentary lifestyle. Our deskbound working days. Our computer and Internet use. TV watching. But the fact is, the average American these days sits – at a desk, in the car or RV or on a couch – nearly eight hours every day. Sitting. Planted. Not moving. A thick and growing-thicker-by-the-day body of medical research is documenting terrible health effects from all this.
I am always at the computer, blogging, updating social media, writing and answering email. But added to that is all the time I have spend driving my RV over the past couple of years. Last year, I drove 35,000 miles across North America, doing stories about the interesting people and places encountered.
Many days, I was behind the wheel 12 hours, only to stop for the night and sit right back down to edit photos and video and write a story for the blog.
You still may be laughing at the term “sitting disease.” Don't. No less an authority than the Mayo Clinic talks about it.
The experts are seriously concerned about the problem. That's because when you sit for an long periods of time – over four hours – your body literally starts to shut down at the metabolic level, according to Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. It gets worse. When muscles—especially the big ones meant for movement, like those in your legs—are immobile, your circulation slows and you burn fewer calories.
That would be cause enough to gain weight.
But as it turns out, sitting so long and so much does even more to those trying to lose weight and get in shape. Key fat-burning enzymes responsible for breaking down triglycerides (a type of fat) simply start switching off. Sit for a full day and those fat burners plummet by 50 percent, says James Levine,M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and author of Move a Little, Lose a Lot.
It gets even worse. The more you sit, the less blood sugar your body uses, meaning those sugars store as fat. Medical research research shows that for every two hours spent sitting per day, your chance of getting diabetes goes up by 7 percent. Your risk for heart disease goes up, too, because enzymes that keep blood fats in check are inactive. You're also more prone to depression because with less blood flow, mood-enhacing hormones are not getting to your brain.
“For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking,” says Martha Grogan, cardiologist, Mayo Clinic. Sitting for four or more hours a day has about the same adverse effect on your health as smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes every day.
Sitting disease even blunts the good effects of exercise. “We’ve become so sedentary that 30 minutes a day at the gym may not counteract the detrimental effects of 8, 9 or 10 hours of sitting,” says another researcher, Genevieve Healy, PhD.
So, what to do about it?
Standing every hour, moving around a bit, stretching, working standing up, walking around. Those same studies show that just short little two minute standing breaks can counteract the effects of sitting in dramatic ways. Some people use stand-up desks.
So, as far as sitting disease goes, I'm going to stand for it. Throughout the day. When I'm driving, we'll stop every hour and a half or two at the most and get up and get out of the RV and move around.
I'll let you know how it goes. And for the record, I'm standing now as I type this.