Exercise Does Not Reverse The Effects of Prolonged Sitting

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Dr. Daniel Gonzalez, D.C.

There is no question that prolonged sitting has become a primary contributor to chronic disease. According to the CDC, chronic diseases are now the number one threat to public health, far surpassing infectious disease in the US [1]. It would be much easier if exercise could undo the damage caused by sitting. But the cold truth is that exercise will not reverse the potentially harmful and irrefutable effects of prolonged sitting. You simply cannot shake off an 8 hour workday of sitting with 1 hour of hard work in the gym. This would be equivalent to someone assuming they’re healthy because they exercise 1 hour a day yet consume junk food and soft drinks all day long. Worse, is the unfortunate fact that many Americans don’t fit a workout in daily or even consider long walks, which means their bodies are virtually always in a sedentary state.

Here are just a few examples of what sitting or inactivity can do to your body:

  • Heart: Sitting results in slower blood flow and muscles burn less fat and sugars. This cascade makes it easier for fatty acids to build up.
  • Pancreas: Your ability to respond to insulin is impacted by one day of excess sitting, which leads your pancreas to produce increased amounts of insulin, increasing your risk of diabetes.
  • Digestion: Sitting down after you’ve eaten causes your abdominal contents to compress, slowing down digestion. This can lead to cramping, bloating, heartburn, and constipation.
  • Brain: When the body is still for too long, the brain literally shuts down. Your brain will get less fresh blood and oxygen, which are needed to trigger the release of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals.
  • Back Problems: Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the toll on your back health is even worse if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. It’s estimated that 40 percent of people with back pain have spent long hours at their computer each day.

A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that sitting for long periods of time was independently associated with poor health outcomes regardless of physical activity [2]. This means you cannot reverse the effects of prolonged sitting regardless of exercise activity. This is exactly why we recommend standing up and doing exercises every 10-15 minutes to counteract the ill effects of sitting.

It’s also important to keep in mind that children are not immune to this either. If you think that the statistics don’t apply to you because your child participates in an after school sport, I’ve got bad news. Too much sitting outside of a soccer or baseball game is too much sitting. Period.

(1): www.cdc.gov
(2): http://annals.org/aim/article/2091327/sedentary-time-its-association-risk-disease-incidence-mortality-hospitalization-adults

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