The Sitting Disease

The Sitting Disease

Chiropractic Greenwood IN Woman with Poor Posture

Before crossfit, boot camps, bicycling, treadmills, or even the ancient practice of Yoga, physical fitness was maintained purely as a means of efficiently tracking, hunting, and gathering nutrition for the best possible opportunity to survive and reproduce (1). About the only other documented incidence was the dancing and celebration that ensued following a successful hunt (5). Factor in several thousands of years and much agricultural advancement, and the level of human physical fitness necessary to survive has drastically been reduced. Recently after the dawn of these advancements, physical activity evolved into sport, optimal performance of militaries, and mind-body-spirit harmony for optimal health (e.g. Yoga and Kung Fu) (1). So now you may see how clear it is how integral physical activity has been to human civilization from the very beginning.

Next it is crucial I discuss a topic, not unrelated, but certainly more current: the sitting epidemic. The more often we sit, the more research is gathered about how many negative effects this has on your posture, your fitness, but most importantly your overall health. Now take what we learned in the first paragraph about the earliest ages of our aggressive activity level, and relate it to our present day primarily sedentary lifestyle as it pertains to our health. Longevity and medical technology have made great strides, and this goes largely undisputed. But is it not curious that while we continue to extend our lives, many humans still ultimately end up taking their own with the choices they have made? Six out of the ten of the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) leading causes of death in the US could arguably be largely prevented (2). What good is a longer life if you are unable to enjoy it due to the inability to perform your daily activities? This presents a further topic of debate and remains to be discussed. However, prolonged sitting and inactivity is being continually linked to several risk factors for poor health. In fact, sitting is listed as a risk factor in 4 of the 7 leading causes of death in the US: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers (3). Many organizations are now beginning to equate this “sitting disease” with the dangers of cigarettes. Martha Grogan, cardiologist, claims, “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking” (3).

The most frightening aspect of this information is how readily available it is and how aware most people are of the havocs sitting is reaping on their health (74% believed that prolonged sitting could lead to early death)(3). What most individuals do not seem to understand, however, is the intuitive counterpoint that the human body was built for movement. Up until about 150 years ago, 90% of our human efforts were agricultural (2). So in that short span of time the majority have become almost completely confined to desk jobs in front of a computer screen, rather than staying physically active farming, plowing, etc.

I could spout off specific physiological evidence of the detrimental effects of sitting (e.g. decreased fat burning, lower levels of healthy cholesterol, physical stresses on muscles and joints), but in this case knowing is only the first step. Just understand that no matter how ergonomically designed your chair is, how much core activation it requires, and no matter how much lumbar support you have, sitting in one position for too long will, over time, assuredly send your muscles and joints into the deep end. This can only have one logical conclusion: we must get up and move! Even an activity such as walking around for five minutes every hour will rejuvenate major muscle groups and invigorate your nervous system, essentially “rebooting” your body’s hardware AND software.

Some offices are integrating walking/standing workstations or a “sit/stand” option incorporated into the desk. The effectiveness and acceptance of these options remains to be researched, however initial data seem to support general acceptance of the practice (4). Another solution would be to rethink the design of most offices. A layout discouraging time spent sitting at one’s desk and rather encouraging active collaboration between employees at cooperative workstations may not only increase productivity of the office, but perhaps improve the overall health of the workforce. However, there certainly remain times when absolute concentration and accuracy in work is imperative, practically requiring one to be confined to a sitting position at a desk or workstation. This raises an interesting topic of the accuracy-efficiency trade-off between certain work settings, but goes beyond the scope of this article.

You may be asking yourself, “What can I do to combat these effects if I am unable to incorporate regular movement into my work day?” Typically, most doctors and therapists would prescribe a regular exercise/stretching routine. While this is a start, it does target the issue and is more reactive than proactive. This is why it is vital to public health that not only awareness of the issue is raised, but that simple design strategies and a fresh perspective on work habits be implemented as quickly and often as possible. As mentioned previously, much research is still required in order to fully comprehend the most efficient methods for these tactics. However, our society must develop a sense of intrinsic motivation to fend off serious future health risks by staying as active as we possibly can. In the meantime, I have included some helpful tips that you could easily incorporate into your daily life to stay feeling your best:

  • Set a timer for every hour to stand up, walk around for five minutes, or AT LEAST stretch lightly
  • EXERCISE! Aim for at least 120 minutes per week of moderate to intense level activity
  • Consider the option of an exercise ball/stability chair to promote better sitting posture
  • If you run an office, consider incorporating more group workstations to encourage more movement and collaboration in the office — it just might make your employees more effective!

However, no amount of exercise will reduce the effects sitting has on health. According to Ergotron measurements, reducing sitting time as little as 3 hours per day could add 2 years to the U.S. life expectancy. Just remember: our bodies are not designed to stay in one position (sitting or standing) for extended periods. Your muscles become over contracted, essential fat burning cells shut off immediately, and healthy cholesterol levels drop (3). We have evolved in a manner that puts consistent physical activity, or at the very least reduced INactivity, at the top of the list when it comes to improving quality of life and overall health. The sooner our society takes this message to heart, the more active individuals will remain into elderly adulthood, and the less you will have to spend maintaining your health into the future. So take notes from the children of the world, get off your rear, and do something today and every day!


1) “The History of Fitness” Dalleck and Kravitz from The University of New Mexico

2) “Leading Causes of Death,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

3) Ergotron JustStand Survey & Index Report

4) Grunseit, Anne, et al. “Thinking on your feet: A qualitative evaluation of sit-stand desks in an Australian workplace.” BMC Public Health. Volume 13. (2013). Online.

5) MacAuley, Domhnall. “A history of physical activity, health and medicine.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 87(1): 32–35. (1994). Online.


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