Brain News You Can Use (January 2014)

By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., BCN-Fellow, QEEG

The Risks of Sitting: Can sitting really be bad for your health?

"Prolonged sitting in not what nature intended for us," states Dr. Camellia Davtyan of the UCLA Comprehensive Health Program.

She goes on to say the human body was designed to walk; until relatively recently, we walked a lot. Now Americans sit for more than half the time they are awake. Sitting puts the body into positions it was not designed to accommodate and leads to an assortment of problems including poor circulation, aches and pains, increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular events and death from cardiovascular causes, breast and colon cancer and death from all causes.

Sitting too much has been linked to cardiovascular disease. One study looked at adults with an average age of 65. The participants answered questions about their physical activity and their average sitting time. They then had CT scans to measure fat deposits. Participants who sat more had more fat in the area around their heart, which is linked with cardiovascular disease.

This finding was found even in the people who exercised regularly. Physical activity and sitting are very different behaviors and can affect health differently. Exercise does not counteract the harmful consequences of spending hours each day sitting. "Your body is designed to move," says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D. at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "Sitting for an extended period of time causes your body to shut down at the metabolic level." Hamilton discovered that a key gene (LLP1) that helps prevent blood clotting and inflammation to keep the cardio vascular system healthy is suppressed when you sit for long periods of time. He says, "The shocker was that LLP1 was not impacted by exercise if the muscles were inactive most of the day." He continues, "Pretty scary to say the LPP1 is sensitive to sitting but resistant to exercise."

Another study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of a TV or other screen entertainment with adults who spent more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Adults who had more screen time had a nearly 50% increased risk of death from any cause and 125% increased risk of events linked to cardiovascular disease as chest pain (angina) or heart attack. These risk factors were separated from more traditional factors as smoking and high blood pressure.

Sitting affects not only your physical health but your mental health. A study conducted in Australia looked at almost 9000 women between the ages of 50 to 55. The women were asked questions about their physical activity, sitting time and feelings. The surveys were conducted in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010. The researchers found that the women who sat more than seven hours a day had a 47% higher risk of depression symptoms than the women who sat less than four hours per day.

Greater inactivity had a greater impact on mood. Women who had no physical activity had a 99% higher risk of developing symptoms of depression than women who exercised 30 minutes per day. Women who sat multiple hours and had no exercise were three times more likely to develop depressive symptoms than women who sat less and exercised more. The authors of the study also found that exercise could reduce the risk of future depression.

"Sitting is the new smoking," says Anup Kanodia, MD at the Center for Personalized Health Care at Ohio State University. An Australian study compared the risk from smoking to the risk from sitting. The researchers found that every hour of TV people watched while sitting cuts 22 minutes from their life span while it is estimated that smokers cut their life span by 11 minutes per cigarette. Neville Own, Ph.D., a researcher from Australia, states, "Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right." He continues, "Emerging evidence suggests that the longer you sit the higher your risk. It also seems that exercising won't compensate for too much sitting."

So what do you do to reduce the risks from sitting? Simply standing whenever you can helps reduce sitting and increase moving. Stuart McGill, Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo, says, "Even breaks as short as one minute can improve your health." He suggests interrupting the sedentary time as frequently as possible with posture changes. Other suggestions from the Mayo Clinic include standing and stretching as often as possible, standing while talking on the phone or eating lunch, and walking with colleagues to discuss issues instead of sitting in a conference room. A new trend is the standing desk where your computer screen and keyboard can be adjusted to allow you to work standing. Some companies have installing tread mills with computer stations where employees can walk at a moderate place and work at the same time. One researcher suggested that people stand and walk for a short distance every 20 minutes to increase muscle activity and trigger important processes that assist the body in the breakdown of fats and sugars. Improve your health and lengthen your life by standing and/or walking as often as possible.


Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D. has been providing neurofeedback and biofeedback at Neurofeedback Associates Inc since 2000. She previously worked in mental health and developmental disabilities services for 18 years. Dr. Durgin offers the most advanced treatment services in the field in order to offer individualized client centered solutions to improve brain and life performance.

Published in Natural Triad, January, 2014


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