Why sitting for too long could make you sick

PHOTOGRAPH: 123rf.com

There are many reasons why prolonged sitting always leads to eventual loss of health. This is such a serious subject, I’m going to go over a few of them to illustrate why many of us urgently need to make lifestyle changes to prevent this slide into premature aging and stop the onset of a number of desperate health issues.

There is much research ongoing around this topic, but no definitive studies have been released yet. Scientists are still trying to establish an accurate picture of the processes involved.


Metabolic Syndrome Exploding Worldwide
We do know that sitting for extended periods causes the internal workings of the body to become sluggish and increasingly inefficient. In a country where a youngster now has a 50% chance of eventually developing diabetes, let’s consider how this may affect the balance between glucose and insulin. When we take a meal, the pancreas should recognise the increased levels of glucose in the blood and release sufficient insulin to help the muscles absorb and use this energy. When we are moving, balancing, walking, and even standing, the muscle contraction constantly uses this glucose as fuel, which must be continually replenished. Thus, the balance of homeostasis is maintained.


Read more: Here’s how good posture can transform your health


But when activity is restricted with excessive sitting, metabolism slows and less glucose is required by the muscles and builds up in the blood. This is what eventually leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, one of the most disastrous diseases of the modern world. This is the onset of ‘Metabolic Syndrome’, also associated with cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.


Cancer Increases With Inactivity
Cancer is rarely far from the news nowadays, and two of the most prevalent forms, especially in Singapore, are breast and colon cancers. Importantly, research is showing that both seem to be highly influenced by the amount of physical activity in a person’s lifestyle.

A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who spend more than six hours a day sitting were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sit for less than three hours, whilst the early-death rate for men was 18% higher. It is unclear exactly why cancer increases with a sedentary lifestyle, but one theory is that, excess insulin encourages cell growth. We also know that systemic inflammation tends to be at higher levels, and fewer natural antioxidants that kill the cancer-causing free radicals, are being produced.


The Problem Is Clearly Illustrated By The Statistics
In a 2012 study from the University of Leicester in the UK, Dr. Emma Wilmot examined 18 studies with a massive 800,000 participants. It clearly demonstrated a worrying connection between living a sedentary life and serious loss of health. The statistics are compelling. 

People who spend most of the day sitting have:

  • 112% increased risk of contracting diabetes
  • 147% increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • 49% increased risk of dying prematurely

One of my favourite studies from Britain was published in 1953, after scientists looked at two very similar groups, London bus drivers and bus conductors. What it clearly showed was that, despite working in a similar environment, the drivers, who obviously sat all day, were almost twice as likely to die from heart disease than the conductors, who were on their feet most of the day.

This is all very bad news for those of us who are sitting all day, and if this wasn’t bad enough, it’s about to get worse. Most of you will have heard of the dangers of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), associated with flying. These are blood clots that form in the legs because of the lack of movement and muscle contraction, causing blood to pool in the lower limbs. The clots cause leg pain, but if they dislodge and move with the circulation to the lungs, then they can result in a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Well, it’s not the actual flying that is the problem, it is the sitting in a stationary position, in a confined space with restricted movement that allows these clots to form, hence, the increasing concern.


Read more: How stress can cause a heart attack or sudden death


If you are sitting all day, every day, then you are at risk. This is just another example of sitting disease, and the terrible toll it is taking on modern society. So, if you are one of the millions who sit all day to do your work, then please take note. The problems associated with sitting will affect anyone and everyone. Any profession—bankers, lawyers, office or factory workers—it will strike you all. Any nationality, religion, status, age, or sex—the hospitals are full of poor souls, just like you, who quite simply were never told. They never knew and they never had a chance. So now, you know!

To conclude, I will quote Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, ‘Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.’ Levine is credited with coining the mantra, ‘sitting is the new smoking’.


This is an extract of Tim Errington’s book, Posture Matters- The New Guidebook to Vibrant Health, Longevity, And Maximized Potential. Visit his website to learn more.