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Quit Sitting

We have all heard the “sitting is new smoking” line…and probably are sick of it.  However, when we cast aside this overused trope, do we take the time to consider why this became a thing?

I mean, do we really know how much we sit in a given day? And have we compared it side by side to smoking, in terms of illness and death that is directly attributable to sitting? Is it comparable? 

It is not at the same level when it comes to real data surrounding illness or deaths, like smoking is.  However, it is dangerous just the same, just smaller numbers. 

Here is what we do know.  Much like other maligned substances or practices, sitting is considered to be right up there with carbs, red meat, and sugar when it comes to negatively impacting our health and wellbeing.  Doctors have known for a long time that prolonged sitting increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.  Sitting for hours at a time can also put you at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, obesity and metabolic syndrome. 

Researchers aren’t sure why it is so harmful to sit, however we do know that sitting takes less energy than standing.  When we sit the large muscles relax (think glutes) and don’t take up too much glucose from our blood, increasing our risk of type 2 (adult onset) diabetes.
Additionally, when we sit for long periods of time, we increase our risk of pain.  Pain from tight hip flexors and hamstrings, as well as joint pain.  This can then affect our gait, balance and can increase our lower back pain.  Sitting for long periods of time affects our bodies negatively, from our necks all the way down to the bottom of our feet.

Being sedentary is a side effect of having a desk job, long commutes, and indoor leisure activities such as watching TV, playing video games, or just “doomscrolling” for hours.  It is how we work, how we get to work (or just about anywhere in the US), and how we choose to spend our free time. 

The good news is that we can mitigate the consequences of habitual inactivity very easily. In fact, if we just get up and move around every hour for five to ten minutes that will help.  All we need to counter the effects of sitting is to get twenty minutes of exercise per day, every day or thirty minutes five days per week.  It can be a walk, run or jog – simple stuff.  It is also helpful to strength train to maintain muscle strength. 

Two really useful exercises, especially for the hips, which bear the brunt of the damage of sitting too much is the “clamshell” and the other is the “birddog”, both of which help strengthen and stabilize the hips. 

The clamshell is where you lie on your side, with your knees bent and use a stretchy band to open and close the top knee to strengthen the adductor muscles. Do both sides.

The birddog is where you get on all fours and stretch one leg out straight while stretching out the opposite arm.  And then switch to the opposite side.  This engages your core and improves your balance.

And I will leave you with this, if you need further evidence that movement is good for you. My sister and I recently went on a trip where we did quite a bit of walking, each day.  She is monitoring her blood sugar with a continuous glucose monitor (cgm) and because of all the walking we did she stayed within an acceptable range the entire time.  Additionally, when we ate meals, her blood sugar did not spike radically.  Instead, it increased, as it should after a meal, and then leveled out.  Much healthier.  And I lost weight despite eating well, including dessert, and drinking wine with my meals.  Here is the proof from my Fitbit of the walking we did.
  • Quit sitting.

  • At least for prolonged periods of time. 

  • Get up and move regularly. 

  • Do this every day.

  • Set a reminder on your phone or desktop to get up and move.  I like the Pomodoro timer when I am working.  It gives me an alarm after 25 minutes of sustained sitting, then a five minute break.  After four sets of 25 minutes I get a longer 15 minute break.  Give it a try.  It is free.



Sean Martin
Sean Martin

My legs ache ... I need a massage 🍌

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