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Doctor's Notes

The Hidden Dangers of Sitting

by Ryan Hogan 15 Oct 2018

What are you doing right now? Are you sitting down?

The most likely answer is yes!

Americans spend 70% of their time sitting. Think about your day. You wake up in the morning, get ready, drive, ride a train or take a bus to work or school, arrive at your destination and then spend more time sitting. If you are the average American worker you are sitting at your desk all day, sitting through meetings, eating your lunch at your desk while working, then sitting until it is time to leave. Then you get back into your car; ride on the train or bus to go home. You get home and make dinner and then sit down again to eat dinner. After dinner, you may sit on the couch or use the computer and maybe grab a snack. Then you go to bed and do it all over again.

You may not think you live a sedentary lifestyle but if that scenario seems close to your average day then you are more than likely living a life most of us try to avoid or don’t even realize we are living. Even if you go to the gym a few days a week, you still may be leading a sedentary lifestyle. Living this type of lifestyle may have negative effects on your health and wellness. Most people don’t realize the toll that being inactive takes on your body and how it can be associated with disease and death.

Sedentary lifestyles are becoming more prevalent in our society due to increased time spent on computers, watching television, using smart devices and due to increased sedentary behavior in the workplace. Society is becoming more focused on activities that are in-active and less focused on activities that require you to move.

Children in our society are also becoming more sedentary and that will set them up for having poor exercise habits later in life. People that lead a sedentary lifestyle are more at risk for several health conditions and diseases. The habits and behaviors that come along with this type of lifestyle can be changed which can help to decrease the associated health risks. The reality is that most people spend most of the time sitting and as much as we can promote physical activity to counteract the effects of this lifestyle we also need to think about how can we improve the time we spend sitting in regards to comfort and support for our spine.

First, we must define what sedentary behavior is before we talk about the risks of this behavior and how to go about changing it.

Defining Sedentary Behavior

A sedentary lifestyle is basically defined as an excessive amount of daily sitting or inactivity. It is a lifestyle in which a person does not move enough throughout the day. It means that you spend most time throughout the day sitting or in a reclined posture. It can be defined by how vigorous your activity is throughout the day. Sedentary behavior quantification is based on how much you move during waking hours. Sedentary behavior is technically defined by the intensity of your behavior based on metabolic equivalents or METS. Using METS researchers can describe sedentary behavior versus non-sedentary behavior which can be described as light, moderate or vigorous physical activity. The more you move the more METS you are using. The technical definition of sedentary behavior is any waking behavior or activity that uses less than 1.5 METS.

Why do you care? You care about METS because the more you move the less sedentary you are and you have less risk of acquiring unwanted health conditions from being inactive. Evidence suggests that non-seated behaviors that utilize less than 1.5 METS could still contribute to better health. This is important because it means that it may be better to stand at your desk than sit at your desk even if you aren’t moving. This may protect you from some of the unwanted health conditions that can be acquired from sedentary behavior or lifestyle.

Sedentary activities can be described in different domains which include work, leisure/environment, and commuting/traveling. These activities can be categorized as nondiscretionary or discretionary. Discretionary behaviors include watching television, reading, using a computer or playing video games. Non-discretionary behaviors can include sitting at work or school or traveling via car or bus. Basically, there are things in your life that you can control and things that you can’t control in regards to the time you spend sitting throughout the day. You can control if you get home from work and sit on the couch but you can’t really have complete control over the time you spend sitting in traffic in your car. The time you spend sitting at work may seem like it is out of your control but there may be ways to change the amount of time you spend sitting at work.

Sedentary living can be defined as a way of living or a lifestyle that requires minimal physical activity and that encourages inactivity through limited choices, disincentives, and/or structural or financial barriers. Aging has been found to be associated with reduced cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and skeletal muscle function, but evidence suggests that a portion of these changes may be due to an increase in sedentary behavior through the lifespan. There are several health risks that are a result of sedentary behavior that people may not be aware of. It is important to change your lifestyle to decrease the effects of inactive behaviors on your health.

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