If you're like a lot of people, you probably spend too much time sitting on your butt.
In fact, the average Canadian adult spends almost 10 hours a day -- about two-thirds of their waking hours -- sitting at a desk, sitting while travelling, sitting while working on a computer, or lounging on the couch while watching TV.
This is not a good thing. In fact, it can be a very bad thing for your health.
A number of studies suggest sitting for long periods of time increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And here is the kicker: You can be at risk for these conditions even if you meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity of 150 minutes a week.
The reason? Simply put, when you sit for long periods of time, your body expends far less energy than when you are moving around. This can lead, for example, to an increase in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can undermine your heart health. It can also lead to higher blood sugar and insulin levels, increasing your risk for diabetes. And studies also suggest sitting is linked to greater risks for breast and colon cancer, possibly due to higher levels of insulin, hormones and chronic inflammation, which support the growth of tumours.
Of course, none of this is to suggest your daily workout is not doing you any good. Sitters who exercise regularly are still better off than those who don't. It's just that short bursts of activity -- say 30 minutes of exercise a day -- can't completely offset the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day and watching television all night.
Although the research is not conclusive, studies suggest a reduction in sitting time can prolong your life. In fact, some experts suggest if you reduce your TV-watching time from more than four hours per day to two hours per day, you can add up to a year and a half to your life. Even reducing the total amount of time you spend sitting by two hours can reduce your triglycerides and improve insulin levels and sensitivity, thereby enhancing your heart health.
The good news is reducing your sedentary time throughout the day is not as daunting as it might seem.
For example, some experts suggest something as simple as using your leg muscles by standing, which burns more energy than sitting, can help. Studies show people who stand more during their jobs -- assembly-line workers, bus conductors -- have a lower risk of having a heart attack and death, compared to jobs where people sit more, such as courier drivers or telemarketers.
Getting up from your chair to walk around can also help. One study suggests taking a few one- to two-minute activity breaks to walk around every hour or so can improve insulin action and reduce a "spike" in blood glucose by 25 per cent after eating. This improvement is important, because increases in blood glucose can raise your risk of diabetes and heart disease. In fact, people who more frequently take breaks in sitting time have smaller waist circumferences compared with people who do not break up their sitting time. So stand up right now! You can feel and look healthy just by breaking up your sitting throughout the day.
There are many ways to sit less throughout your day. Try setting a reminder in your schedule to pop up every 30 to 60 minutes as a cue to get up and out of your chair. Go for a walk-and-talk meeting, allowing you and your colleagues to sit less and move more while discussing business. Take a standing break from the couch during every commercial break while watching TV.
With this in mind, it is important you ask yourself the simple question: "If you are not sitting, what are you doing?" In most cases, the answer is moving more, and in this case, more is good.
D. Scott Kehler is a PhD student at the Health, Leisure & Human Performance Research Institute in the faculty of kinesiology and recreation management at the University of Manitoba.