The Sitting Disease

Beware of your chair! I thought this photo was appropriate in light of todays topic and the release of iOS4.

Are you at risk to the degenerative ailments and chronic illnesses associated with prolonged daily sitting? The latest research says yes! Whether you are a regular exerciser or not, if you spend most of the day at a desk and seated in a chair you may be putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers, and premature death. Those who sit regularly show statistically higher blood pressure, blood sugar profiles, and waist sizes. Many of us go from our beds, to the car, to the desk chair, to the couch, and back to bed.  A recent Australian study of adults showed an 18% increase for heart disease and 11% increase in mortality for each daily hour of television watching. Surprisingly, three hours or more of sitting, watching television has been shown to offset any amount of jogging or other exercise throughout the day. Those who watch three hours or more of TV tend to be fatter, whether they exercise or not. But why is the act of sitting so bad for your health? Its one of the most metabolically passive positions to be in and triggers a cascade of metabolic effects that have mal effects on energy usage. When you sit, large postural muscles of the back, legs and core are shut down which reduces fat-burning enzymes by 50%. Sitting also decreases the HDL:LDL cholesterol ratio, increases the risk of contracting diabetes by 7% for every 2 hours of sitting per day, increases the risk of heart disease, increases the incidents of depression, increases the risk of acquiring metabolic syndrome by 26% for every hour spent sitting irrespective of the quantity of moderate exercise performed (as shown by Australian researchers) and decreases lifespan (as shown by Canadian researchers involving a twelve-year, 17,000 person study as well as by Australian researchers involving a six-year, 8,800 person study). In addition, prolonged sitting increases incidences of discomfort (including back pain, muscle tenderness and aches, stiff necks, and numbness in the legs, chronic disorders, arthritis, inflamed tendons, chronic joint degeneration, impaired circulation, varicose veins, hypertension, obesity, cancer, high blood triglycerides, high blood sugar, osteoporosis, and herniated discs (Graf et al. 1993 and 1995, Grandjean 1987, Kelsey 1975). Lipoprotein lipase is an enzyme that aids in the metabolism of fat. Its produced in many cells in your body, most notably, your muscles. Low levels of lipoprotein lipase has been shown to increase your risk for many chronic obesity related diseases.  Studies with rats have shown a decrease in the production of this enzyme when inactive. Simply standing, stretching, or getting up and walking periodically throughout your workday can reengage these muscles, boost fat burning enzymes and decrease your risk for disease. When you stand the muscles in your legs and core fire to maintain posture and aid movement. Simply sitting 50% less per day can decrease the above risks. A trend in the workplace as this idea catches on are elevated desks for standing, and low speed treadmills. While you may not have access to these progessive workplace options, you can get up and out of your chair periodically throughout the day, you can walk and or take the stairs where available. Avoid the couch when you get home, get some work done in the yard or go for a walk with friends or family. Even retiring in  rocking chair for the evening news is metabolically more active than the couch. For some workplace stretching tips, refer to my demo page on dynamic stretching.

Control Your Cholesterol

In the pharmaceutical era we live in, Americans are far too eager these days to quickly solve health problems with magic pills, rather than conventional lifestyle modifications. High cholesterol is an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease, especially high LDL cholesterol, the so called “bad” cholesterol. 85% of cholesterol in your blood is produced by the body; the other 15% comes from food. Now, while genetics may play a strong role in your natural cholesterol levels, there are dozens of alternatives for managing it instead of medication, despite the pharmaceutical industry’s sincerest influences. There are many ways to lower bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol. Cholesterol levels can be easily checked by your general practitioner with simple blood tests. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), ideal total cholesterol levels should be under 200 mg/dl. 200 is the sum of your LDL and HDL. Optimal LDL levels should be 100 or less. However, a high HDL level of 60 or more can negate some of the health risks of a high LDL.

The following are a list of measures proven effective to improve cholesterol levels in controlled clinical trials: Exercise – consistent aerobic exercise, Alcohol – 1 -2 drinks a day, especially red wine (exceeding this amount however eliminates any benefit), Weight loss – achieved through diet and exercise, Yoga – shown to lower LDL levels after 3 months or more, Smoking cessation – LDL levels are shown to be higher in smokers. Smoking is also an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease.

So before adding another medication, try limiting your dietary cholesterol consumption at dinner, enjoy a glass or two of wine with that, take a walk afterwards, followed up by some light stretching and perhaps everything else will fall into place!