Evidence shows that prolonged sitting is devastating your health. It actively promotes dozens of chronic diseases, which includes becoming overweight and type 2 diabetes, even if you're very fit.
Studies looking at life in agriculture environments show that people in agrarian villages sit for about three hours a day. Meanwhile, the average American office worker can sit for 13 to 15 hours a day, and research shows that vigorous exercise cannot counteract the adverse effects of this prolonged sitting.
More than likely you can avoid most of the damage from excessive sitting if you sit less than three hours a day. Typically I seek to sit under one hour a day, but as long as you are under three hours every day you will likely avoid most of the damage excessive sitting causes.
Sitting down for too long and often turns out to be an independent risk factor for poor health and an early demise. Interestingly, evidence of the biological effects associated with lack of movement date further back than you might think—straight into the human fossil records.
Fortunately, the remedy is simple: Avoid sitting and get more movement into your life. The key is to exert your body against gravity, as explained by Dr. Joan Vernikos.
While just about any movement will do, weight-bearing exercises are beneficial and suitable for most people regardless of fitness level, as is yoga. In addition, standing up as much as possible, preferably with a stand up desk, will greatly facilitate your ability to replicate ancestral movement patterns.
Abandoning Nomadic Lifestyle Made Man's Bones Less Dense
According to biological anthropologists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the fossil record suggests that when early man traded their nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles for a more settled one, it resulted in a less dense bone structure. As reported by NPR:1
"The lightweight bones don't appear until about 12,000 years ago. That's right when humans were becoming less physically active because they were leaving their nomadic hunter-gatherer life behind and settling down to pursue agriculture.
A report on the work appeared... in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,2 along with a study from a different research group that came to much the same conclusion.
Those researchers looked at the bones of people in more recent history who lived in farming villages nearly 1,000 years ago and compared them with the bones of people who had lived nearby, earlier, as foragers.
'We see a similar shift, and we attribute it to lack of mobility and more sedentary populations,' says Timothy Ryan, an associate professor of anthropology at Penn State University. 'Definitely physical activity and mobility is a critical component in building strong bones.'"
The health effects go far beyond reductions in bone density, however. I for one am absolutely convinced that sitting is in and of itself a root problem of many of our chronic health problems, and mounting research supports this notion.
According to Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona State University Obesity Initiative, and author of the book Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, some 10,000 publications have shown that sitting is harmful to your health, irrespective of other lifestyle habits, including an excellent exercise program.
Part of the reason why this may seem so surprising is that we've become so accustomed to sitting in chairs that we've failed to realize that doing so might be seriously problematic.
Even I am perplexed at how I missed such a profoundly important health principle for the first 60 years of my life, but now that I have a better understanding of the science behind it, the cause and effect are quite clear. And so is the remedy.