Just 'hitting the gym' several times a week may not be enough to off-set the negative consequences when you spend most of your time sitting on a chair or bench. According to scientists, prolonged sitting should carry a public health warning.
Why is the humble chair being blacklisted? As the most passive activity behind lying down, being seated burns a bare minimum of calories - even eating an apple or fidgeting uses more energy than sitting down on a chair.
While standing engages muscles in your back, shoulders and legs, sitting presents no positive physical challenge to the body, forcing it instead into an inactive state.
People mistake the term for "sedentary" for meaning "no exercise", but if someone goes to the gym or walks for 30 to 45 minutes a day, but sits down the rest of the time, then they are still described as having a "sedentary lifestyle".
Apparently, prolonged sitting shuts off both muscles as well as those fat-metabolizing proteins. Even with equal overall activity levels, a person who sits more, will put on weight more rapidly due to the reduced activity of fat burning proteins.
Regular movement is also important for preserving good posture. A healthy human spine has a natural S-shape, but sitting pushes the spine into an unnatural C-shape so that the back and abdominal muscles designed to support the body are unused.
Over time, the postural muscles become so weak that they are unable to support the spine effectively and back pain inevitably ensues.
Too much sitting may be as bad for a person’s health as smoking. A sedentary lifestyle can raise your risks of developing chronic diseases, as well as shorten your lifespan. The greatest risk, due to the negative impact on fat metabolisation, is development of diabetes type 2.
It's often assumed that in order to develop type 2 diabetes, you have to be overweight. While it's true that excess weight is clearly associated with insulin resistance and diabetes, it's the insulin resistance — not necessarily the weight gain — that drives the disease.
Don't think you are safe because you have a 'healthy' weight (a normal BMI of 25 or less), because you may be 'skinny fat' , which means there's a high proportion of fat in relation to total body weight, due to a lack of muscle mass. To calculate your BMI, divide your body weight (kg) by the square of the body height (m2). A male weighing 80kg and a height of 1.80m will have a BMI of 24.7.
Even when you have a 'healthy' body weight, but are sitting too much, make sure to get up and move. This can be a simple as simply making it into a habit to stand up and walk around when answering the phone.
It is far more important to move a little and often than to move a lot infrequently, which can be seen at centenarians who nearly invariably tend to maintain a (veggie) garden till late in life. A gardener's work never ends, there's always something to do.
Don't panick when you don't hit a daily goal of 10K steps never mind the 15K steps that seems to have become the new target, but instead focus on using a countdown alarm, and force yourself to get up every half an hour and move a little.
Ideally, you should use that time to do mobility exercises for your 'office' muscles : neck, back and shoulders so as to diminish the risk for physical complaints.
When you are more fanatical, think about placing a mat in your office and do some more exercises like planks and push-ups or better yet, gets a few kettle bells and mounts a pull-up bar on the wall or in the doorway.
In case you consider changing desks and start using a standing desk, consider how standing for a prolonged period of time is also very challenging for the body, because the lack of movement causes varicose veins.
It is more important to move around than whether you sit or stand at your desk.