Living in the age of streaming video games, Netflix, and unlimited movie options, it is not surprising that most people spend most of their waking time sitting. Our sitting habits have changed dramatically since the earlier part of the decade. Now, sitting has been branded as the new smoking because of the risk of extended sitting. A new study has yielded insights into when and why people sit and how to best study people’s sitting behavior.
Why sitting too much is harmful to your health
A team of researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands shared how sitting for long periods harms people’s health but in modern society, most people spend plenty of time sitting, especially at work. The danger of sitting too long, though, is that it contributes to physical and mental health conditions, such as stress, depression, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and all-cause mortality. For working adults, extensive sitting happens during work time and it influences their vascular health, bone mineral content, and metabolism. The harmful consequences of extensive sitting are even present among those who meet the recommended levels of physical activity every day.
Psychologist Pam ten Broeke from the Radboud University’s Behavioural Science Institute, who co-authored the study, told Medical Xpress that studies may have established that too much sitting is bad for health but they are still not aware of the psychological site of sitting. Often, people understand sitting as a conscious decision like exercise, but it happens more automatically. Since sitting appears to be a habitual behavior, “you will need to treat it as such.”
Examining people’s sitting behavior
To improve the well-being and health of society, it is important to change people’s sitting behavior, the study reads. So, Broeke and colleagues examine the sitting behavior on a more granular level, which is the level of individual stand-to-sit and sit-to-stand transitions. They found that people’s sitting patterns tend to change as the workday progresses. For example, prolonged periods of sitting are more common in the morning and people are quicker to change their sitting posture in the afternoon. Broeke added, “We found this to be quite interesting.”
People sit better in the afternoon
The results also show that although people already feel mentally fatigued in the afternoon than in the morning, their sitting behavior is rather more healthy. This is contrary to other health behaviors, including exercise or eating. At the end of their workday, people may not be able to concentrate the same way as they were in the morning but they are quicker to move away and get up from their workplaces. They move more to take a short break or get something, away from their workplace. Consequently, it leads to a healthier sitting pattern.
Broeke and the team studied the sitting behavior and posture transitions of 156 people during their work time in an office. Activity sensors were installed on them and they were monitored for an average for four workdays. In contrast to the previous studies, however, the team used a new analysis technique in determining the activity data. They closely examined how quickly the participants switched between standing and sitting, something that people do nearly 100 times per day on average.
They added that past studies only studied the total number of hours spent standing and sitting per day and focused less on the changes in these postures. For their research, they specifically focused on the changes in this behavior and examine the changes in standing and sitting posture separately. People transition between 70 and 140 times between sitting and standing on an average day. They may also stay in one posture for a time ranging from a few seconds to several hours. They take short but frequent posture switches, such as grabbing coffee, visiting the bathroom, or stretching their legs.
A total of 30,000 transitions between standing and sitting were examined by the team. It enabled them to investigate the relations between the other psychological processes that happen dynamically in the day, such as fatigue, office environment, and physical environment.
Individual differences in physical fitness
The Radboud University researchers also explored the associations between individual differences that are related to the hazard of standing up and sitting and people’s physical fitness. They assumed that those who have higher Body Mass Index are less active in their leisure time and are older. Thus, less physically fit. They then conducted sensitivity analyses and found that none of the indicators of physical fitness were linked to the hazard of sitting down or standing up. In short, the timing of sitting down while standing and standing up while sitting does not depend on a person’s physical fitness.
Healthier sitting behavior
The team hopes that their findings could serve as a basis for the design of effective interventions that promote healthier sitting behavior. Such kinds of interventions, the team suggests, would probably have to focus on encouraging more dynamic changes between standing and sitting during the workday and those that capitalize on the unconscious and the automatic aspect of sitting behavior.
The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
Sitting and sitting disease: statistics
StandUpKids.org, an organization that provides education on health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles, shared that the average US student spends an average of 4.5 hours per day sitting at school. For children ages 8 to 18, they sit an additional 7 hours a day while in front of a screen, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
After combining the amount of time sitting while eating breakfast, on the way to and from school, at school, after school doing homework, eating dinner, in front of a computer, in front of the TV, and slouching over a phone, it was found that kids are sitting 85% of their waking hours.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society published a study involving 123, 216 individuals and found alarming results. It shows that men who sit more than 6 hours a day were 48% more likely to die than those who sat less than 3 hours a day or were physically active. Also, women who sit more than 6 hours a day were 94% more likely to die than those who sat less than 3 hours a day and were physically active during the period studied from 1993 – 2006.
On-site wellness company Chasing Nirvana Yoga also published that sedentary lifestyles are responsible for an estimated $24 billion in direct medical spending and 300,000 deaths occur yearly due to poor dietary habits and inactivity in the US alone.
Knowing and understanding all these, we should rethink how we categorize healthy seated time.