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Why too much sitting is so bad for us... and what we can do to counteract it

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

It's been good to focus on creating our second Lifestyle Medicine course, 'Lifestyle Medicine in Clinical Practice' while lockdown restrictions have been in place.

It has meant a lot more time spent sitting down though!

I suspect a lot of people have ended up sitting more during lockdown, either because they are working more, or with dark nights drawing in and gyms and exercise classes off limits many of us just end up slipping into bad habits.

So I've been reminding myself to get up and do some desk yoga, although I still can't get used to standing while typing! (Yes I admit, am sitting down as I write this!).

A great article in the New Scientist in July ("How to sit to get fit: the evolutionary secret that could add years to your life") looked at how we sit.

Key messages from the New Scientist article:

In 2012 I-Min Lee published her landmark paper in the Lancet which concluded that prolonged periods of inactivity killed more than 5 million people each year globally.

So why is resting so bad? Given other mammals spend their winters in hibernation and our evolutionary cousins, the great apes, spend hours each day sitting and lying about... why can't we? The Hadza community spend a lot of time resting, but sitting doesn't make them ill.

Hamilton's rat study, later supported by human studies demonstrate elevated triglyceride levels from prolonged sitting.

😁 But breaking this inactivity up with light activity, triglyceride levels dropped by over a third.

So going back to the Hadza community, Professor's Pontzer and Raichlen found that the Hazda's rest periods of 10 hours a day were identical to people in the US, Netherlands and Australia. However blood and blood pressure profiles were extremely healthy with low triglyceride levels.

The big difference was in how they sat, rather than how long.

The big difference was in how they sat, rather than how long. They would sit in the squat or kneeling position. This uses 5 to 10 times as much muscle activity in the legs than sitting in a chair.

So, here are a couple of tips for us... 😀

  • Move about in between being at your desk or on the couch.

  • Try squatting, kneeling or sitting cross-legged when on your computer / Netflix. Give it a go!

Want to learn more about lifestyle medicine? Check out our new course, 'Lifestyle Medicine in Clinical Practice'.
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