Recent findings from a major obesity conference revealed that the negative impact of prolonged sitting may be greater than the benefits achieved from being more active throughout the day or restricting your caloric intake. While you cannot quite say that sitting down for prolonged periods will kill you, the evidence does suggest that resting on your behind too much can negatively influence a few factors that impact various aspects of your metabolism. Many years ago, scientists identified the notion that it was better to be "
Fat and Active
" as opposed to "
Skinny and Sedentary
". While these initial findings in humans were based on association, the latest findings were developed to identify a cause and effect relationship. In other words, "Does sitting too much negatively impact your metabolic health more than improved activity or restricting calories?" To examine this question, researchers partnered with thirteen young, physically fit and active adults and studied them under three conditions. In two conditions, the participants were required to sit for prolonged periods, but in one condition they restricted their caloric intake, an activity that scientists have shown in research animals to improve metabolic health. The third and final condition had the participants sit for 25% less. In other words they were up and moving more than in the other two conditions. During all conditions, the participants had several blood samples collected and analyzed for changes in glucose and insulin and other markers that provide information about metabolic health. When participants sat down for 25% less time and even when they restricted their food intake, the changes in the blood markers suggested that metabolic health was decreased when compared to being more active.
Two important and sobering aspects of this study need to be discussed. For starters, these findings occurred after just one day of sitting too much. While the researchers did not specifically address this answer, what do you think would happen if this study was extended for another couple of days, a week, a month? I'm betting the results would initially show further decreases in metabolic health which would then level off at these lower levels for the rest of the time. The other important aspect in this study relates to the fact this was performed in young, healthy, active individuals who likely had very high levels of metabolic health before the study. Therefore, if these negative changes occur in people who are young and fit, they likely will happen in everyone and maybe to an ever greater degree than what was identified in this study.
How do you respond? Sure you can't start walking around the office all day and you have to sit down for meetings, talking on phone, computer work, etc. Heck, I'm sitting while writing this article, but make it a habit to get more activity throughout the day and every day. Go for a brief walk mid-morning and mid-afternoon, park farther away or take the stairs to visit a colleague on another floor for a brief meeting. And of course continue your exercise program. The body is made to move, it's up to you to find out ways to make that happen, but your overall health is counting on it.
Zderic TW, Stephens BR, Granados K, Braun B, Hamilton MT. Being Physically Fit or Restricting Calories Does Not Prevent Against the Acute Metabolic Effects of Too Much Sitting. 29th Annual Scientific Meeting of The Obesity Society. October 1-5th, 2011. Presented on Sunday, October 2nd. Abstract # 150-P.