We are all conscious of the fact that today’s lifestyle means that we spend more of our working and leisure time sitting. We drive to and from work, work at a desk, drive a truck or taxi, sit at school. We drive home, sit to eat and then relax in front of the computer or television. The adverse effects of this on our health are fairly obvious; neck, back and upper limb pain as a consequence of sustained poor posture or muscle overload, weight gain due to inactivity and reduced muscle strength.
More recently we are beginning to understand that prolonged sitting may do far more harm than we used to think. Research shows that people who sit for long periods have a greater mortality rate even if they exercise on a regular basis. Research published in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise described a 64% greater risk of death from heart disease in men who were sedentary for more than 23 hours per week compared to those who were sedentary for less than 11 hours. And while you might think that you aren’t at risk because you go to the gym every day, think again. The effects of sitting are not negated by regular physical activity such as a daily run, cycle or gym workout –these activities are simply not enough to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.
Who knew that watching television was so dangerous? Research published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that television viewing reduced the life expectancy from birth by 1.8 years in Australian men, and by 1.5 years in Australian women. (The research was conducted in Australia least you think I have something against Australians!) The research suggested that every hour of television watched over the age of 25 reduced life expectancy of the viewer by 21.8 minutes.
The adverse health effects of prolonged sitting appear to be related to a reduction in muscle activity with consequent change in metabolic activity. The rate of burning calories drops significantly. Insulin effectiveness drops with subsequent rise in blood glucose levels, and longer term risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Breakdown of fats is reduced leading to greater risk of weight gain and a rise in cholesterol levels.
The answer seems to lie in increasing all sorts of activity throughout your day. Get up frequently- pretty obvious, but easy to forget to do especially if you are engrossed in your work or shopping online. You may wish to explore the possibility of using a standing desk at work. Sit on an exercise ball for some of your day- at your desk or when you’re watching the news on TV- you’ll be using some of your core muscles at the same time. Try to reduce the time you spend sitting at home. Regular little bursts of activity throughout all of your day are the way to go. And moving away from your screen might do more than just help your health- it might allow you to have a conversation face to face with another human being!
Michelle Sintmaartensdyk is a physiotherapist at the Oamaru Physiotherapy Clinic, 19 Eden Street, Oamaru.

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