How Excessive Sitting Impacts Our Body

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last decade, you’ve no doubt read that sitting is killing us. Some have gone so far as to compare it to cancer and smoking. Tom Rath, author of several New York Times bestselling books, including Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes, recently said “Sitting is the most underrated health threat of the modern era.”

“What we don’t realize, because it’s happened even more slowly than the epidemic of smoking (is) we’ve subtly worked activity out of our daily routine. 50 years ago.… you had to be moving around and keep active; now we’ve got it all engineered so we can sit at a computer and order everything on Amazon, so it shows up at our front door and (we) drive around in circles so we don’t have to take a hundred steps at the shopping mall parking lot and so forth. And so we’ve done it piece-by-piece over time. We don’t realize that most people end up sitting for eight to ten hours a day on average."

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As Tom mentions, the increase in sitting has occurred subtly, largely in response to lifestyle changes and technological conveniences. We often sit during our morning and evening commute, spend most of our day at a seated desk, eat meals sitting down and crash on the sofa after work. All of this is in conflict with our natural instinct and biology, which is designed for regular motion. 

But rather than get caught up in the hype and vilification of sitting, it’s important to remember that sitting is still a crucial part of our day. The key is to avoid excessive sitting, staying in one posture for long periods of time. 

When you sit all day, even in a healthy ergonomic posture, your overall health is adversely affected. A recent study of over 73,000 women unveiled a three-fold risk of death from heart disease with those who sit the most, compared to those who sit the least. According to a study published by David Alter, sitting for prolonged periods of timeincreases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, regardless of whether a person engages in a regular exercise routine. It’s somewhat ironic that the health & fitness industry is booming, yet we still manage to spend most of our day in unhealthy, sedentary positions, negating the benefits of our exercise regimens.

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Excessive sitting can also lead to Musculoskeletal Disorders such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, plus lower back pain from intervertebral disk compression. According to the World Health Organization, American companies lose 149 million work days per year just to lower back pain, at a cost of $100-200 billion annually. 

In Asia particularly, where working hours tend to be long and fast paced, it’s crucial to prioritise your health and the wellbeing of your organisation. Sitting is not necessarily the enemy but taking steps to encourage regular movement and a change of postures will ultimately lead to better health, engagement and productivity. 

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