By Mathilde Papillon
What if I told you that you are currently sitting on a very dangerous weapon? That may seem dramatic at first, but let me indulge you for a moment, and by the end of this, I think you will agree.
Let us begin by investigating the toll the chair has on the human body after only a few minutes of use. An example of this is the weakening of the circulatory system. As Dr. Richard Klabunde explains on his educational website, veins require muscular contractions and relaxations for proper blood flow. In other words, muscles surrounding veins initiate circulation when activated and deactivated. As such, when one stops moving, veins must depend on very little muscle movement to continue pumping all 5 litres of blood contained in the human body. As a result, less blood flows, and the brain gets less oxygen. After as little as a half hour, your mental focus deteriorates. This might explain a few late nights at Schulich… Your circulatory system is also weakened when the enzymes present in blood capillaries, responsible for disintegrating fats, stop working. Eventually, lipids clog up in the veins and reduce blood flow (Hamilton et al.).
Another instant response to the chair manifests itself in musculoskeletal degenerations. During prolonged sitting time, certain disks between your spine’s vertebrae that normally allow for free movement are squeezed, while others are made taut with tension. This causes them to “lose sponginess” (Berkowitz and Clark, 1), as described in an article of the Washington Post on the dangers of sitting. Similarly, the National Institute of Health for Osteoporosis links prolonged sedentary time with an instant weakening of the bones, also known as minor osteoporosis. We likely all agree that fragile bones sound more inconvenient than a quick standing break.
A final example is the muscular degeneration of your abdominal muscles. A study that compared people who sat at work to people who did not observed that “sedentary office workers […] had lower musculoskeletal fitness than healthy, age-matched controls, with the main difference found in endurance of the trunk muscles” (del Pozo-Cruz et al.). Underused abdominals also “form a posture-wrecking alliance that can exaggerate the spine’s natural arch, a condition called hyperlordosis” (Berkowitz and Clark).
Clearly, every extra second spent in the chair has an immediate and tangible impact on your body, including reduced blood flow and musculoskeletal degeneration. Unfortunately, there is even more bad news. The chair isn’t just bad for you short-term, but there is overwhelming evidence of its negative effects in the long-term. The list of chronic diseases ensuing from a lifetime of sedentariness is extensive, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, among others.
Since that claim is easy to dismiss without too much thought, let us really indulge in its implications. We begin with a list of all the cancers that men can catch from the chair after a few decades of consistent sitting.
- One study presented in Brigid M. Lynch’s Sedentary Behavior and Cancer: A Systematic Review of the Literature and Proposed Biological Mechanisms found that men who watched more than 9 hours per day of television compared to those who watched under 3 hours a day are more prone to colorectal cancer.
- Another study analyzed in the report identified an increased risk of colon and rectal cancer in men who work desk jobs (Lynch).
- In a colorectal cancer-specific study, it was “found that participants who spent the most time in sedentary work had a risk of distal colon cancer that was 2 times higher [than the control]” (Boyle et al.)
- A prostate cancer-specific study concluded that “four or more hours of moderate/ vigorous intensity physical activity […] provided a 35% lower risk of prostate cancer” (Lynch et al.).
And now for the women!
- A study determined that an increased time spent sitting during recreational activities causes an increased risk of endometrial cancer (Lynch).
- Another research paper concluded that those siting over 6 hours a day are subject to an increased risk of ovarian cancer (Lynch).
- Sitting for over 6 hours a day is further linked to an augmented risk of cancer mortality (Lynch, 2698), meaning that a woman who sits more often in her life is more likely to die from any cancer.
Clearly, more chair time is more cancer time for everyone.
Moving on to an equally-exciting disease, diabetes is also a well-known consequence of the sedentary lifestyle. Researcher Emma Wilmot, MD, explains the mechanism of this correlation to the online health magazine, Prevention: “When we sit for long periods of time, enzyme changes occur in our muscles that can lead to increased blood sugar levels. The effects of sitting on glucose happen very quickly, which is why regular exercise won’t fully protect you.”
The medical evidence is there to support this:
- An American study observed that in the case of women, every extra 2 hours of television watched per day increases risk for diabetes by 14% (Hu et al.).
- The same study determined that every extra 2 hours of sitting at work per day increases the risk by another 7% (Hu et al.).
- An Australian study concluded that “males reporting higher amounts of sitting (6 to <8 hours and ≥8 hours) are significantly more likely to report ever having diabetes” (George, Richard, and Rozencraz).
The list of side-effects does not end here; yet another chronic illness your chair threatens you with is cardiovascular (CVD) disease, or heart disease.
As a matter of fact, studies dating back to as long ago as the mid-twentieth century conclude that sedentary behaviour is directly associated with CVD complications. This is the case with a 1958 American paper reporting that “men in physically active jobs have less coronary heart disease during middle-age, what disease they have is less severe, and they develop it later than men in physically inactive jobs” (Morris and Crawford).
A more recent Canadian study observing 17,013 people over 12 years found that “the risk for CVD mortality in function of time spent sitting increases among both men and women” (Ford and Casperson). Another study that specifically followed men found that subjects sitting over 10 hours per week in the car and over 23 hours per week in total are 82% and 64% more likely to die from CVD (Warren et al.). In a word, heart disease and sedentariness hold an intimate, life-threatening relationship.
All of these findings and statistics ultimately show just how lethal of a weapon the chair really is. You are sitting on an instigator of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which, at this very moment, is slowing down your blood flow, weakening your bones, and squeezing your spine.
Whether you are reading this at the library, at the office, or from the comfort of your home, take a stand against this weapon even if only for a minute. You might just be doing yourself a serious favour.
Berkowitz, Bonnie and Patterson Clark. “The health hazards of sitting.” Washington Post 20 Jan. 2014: n.p. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
Boyle, Terry et al. “Long-Term Sedentary Work and the Risk of Subsite-specific Colorectal Cancer.” American Journal of Epidemiology 173.10 (2011): 1183-91. Oxford Journals. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
del Pozo-Cruz, B. et al. “Musculoskeletal fitness and health-related quality of life characteristics among sedentary office workers affected by sub-acute, non-specific low back pain: a cross-sectional study.” Physiotherapy Journal 99.3 (2013): 194-200. American Association for Cancer Research. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
Ford, Earl S. and Carl J. Casperson. “Sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular disease: a review of prospective studies.” International Journal of Epidemiology 41.5 (2015): 1338-53. United States National Library of Medicine. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
George, Emma S., Richard R. Rozencraz, and Gregory S. Kolt. “Chronic disease and sitting time in middle-aged Australian males: findings from the 45 and Up Study.” International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity 10.20 (2013): 1-8. United States National Library of Medicine. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
Hu, Frank B. et al. “Television Watching and Other Sedentary Behaviors in Relation to Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Women.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 289.14 (2008): 1785-91. United States National Library of Medicine. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
“Increase Physical Activity” Alliance for a Healthier Generation. American Heart Association. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015
Klabunde, Richard. “Factors Promoting Venous Return.” Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts. n.p., 2013. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
Lynch, Brigid M., et al. “Sedentary Behavior and Cancer: A Systematic Review of the Literature and Proposed Biological Mechanisms.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 19.11 (2010): 2691-709. American Association for Cancer Research. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
Lynch, Brigid M. “Sedentary Behavior and Prostate Cancer Risk in the NIH–AARP Diet and Health Study.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 23.5 (2014): 882-9. United States National Library of Medicine. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
Morris, J.N. and Margaret D. Crawford. “Coronary Heart Disease and Physical Activity of Work.” British Medical Journal 2.5111 (1958): p. 1485-96. United States National Library of Medicine. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
Warren, Tatiana S. et al. “Sedentary Behaviors Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Men.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 42.5 (2010): 879-85. Unites States National Library of Medicine. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
“What Is Osteoporosis? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public.” National Institute of Health for Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases, Government of the United States of America. Nov. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.