Solutions for sitting too much


Health Watch Q&A

Q: I know that sitting too much is bad for me, but what’s a middle-aged gal to do? I go to the gym for an hour three times a week, and ride my bike on weekends, but I also commute 40 minutes each way to work, sit at a desk or meeting table most of the day and by the time dinner is over all I want to do is flop on the couch. Any suggestions? I’d also like to know whether sitting is worse for women than for men.

A: Another batch of research has recently come out showing that too much sitting is bad for the health… very bad. And to make things worse, an hour of exercise a day doesn’t make up for it. Sitting time counts against you regardless of other activity. Sitting too much increases the risk of dying by 64% and increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer.

Practical solutions to sitting too much

Stand – and pace – while you’re on the phone.

Reminders Use one of your techno gadgets to create a timer to remind you to stand up, move around and stretch at least three times an hour. Stretching is good… very good.

Walk and Talk – If you have a meeting with just one or two people, have it while walking. If you can walk outside all the better.

Get a standing desk – Don’t toss the sitting desk, use both. You may only be able to stand for a few minutes at first but persist, it will improve. Improvise and create your own standing desk—this is easier if you have a laptop.

Wear comfortable shoes at least while at the office. Heels can be a major deterrent to standing.

Fidget – While fidgeting is not the same as standing, it’s better than maintaining the same position for long periods.

Sit on an exercise ball – again, not as good as standing, but better than being a lump.

Is Sitting Too Much Worse for Women?

I can’t prove it with research, but there’s a good chance that sitting is worse for women than men because we have more estrogen, which gives us a higher risk of stroke and blood clots. We do know that women who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk of thromboembolism (a blood clot in a vein, usually in the legs, that can break off and travel to the lungs), regardless of weight, diet and exercise. It would certainly be worse for women with estrogen dominance because they are at an even higher risk for blood clots. Yet another reason to test hormone levels if you’re taking estrogen, and yet another reason to use progesterone if you’re taking estrogen.

More Information

Kabrhel C, Varraso R, Goldhaber S et al, “Physical inactivity and idiopathic pulmonary embolism in women: prospective study,” BMJ 2011; 343:d3867 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d3867 (Published 4 July 2011)

Peter T. Katzmarzyk, “Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Health: Paradigm Paralysis or Paradigm Shift?” Diabetes November 1, 2010 59:2717-2725

Travis Saunders, “Can Sitting Too Much Kill You?” Scientific American: Jan 6, 2011.

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