Researchers: don’t just sit on it

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 6, 2015

“I don’t sit well.”

At least that’s what I tell my friends when they ask me to go to a movie, or my family members when I get up to clear the table or wash the dishes while they linger over conversation. I save my ironing until there’s something interesting on television.

But my illusions of my perceived inability to sit for long periods of time have been shattered.

Many of you, like me, enrolled in the American Cancer Society ‘s Cancer Prevention Study a few years back when PowerSouth joined the initiative as a partner. The study is designed to help researchers understand the genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that cause or prevent cancer.

Recently, ACS sent a survey focusing on lifestyle and health issues. Boy, was it an eye-opener for me. “I don’t sit well,” remember.

Pages and pages of questions I completed. I don’t smoke; rarely consume alcohol; eat lots of fruits and vegetables; skip bread and desserts …. I was feeling pretty good.

Active, yes, I’m pretty active. But then those detail-oriented writers of the survey suggested that one should give the average of time active for the whole year, not just the warm weather months. Suddenly, my averages were nothing to brag about.

And then those nosy researchers went and asked about sitting. Not just about sitting, but how many hours a day I sit … in a vehicle, in a desk chair, at a table …. Just sitting. And suddenly, it became crystal clear: the time I was spending not sitting didn’t begin to compensate for all the hours each day that I do.

And sitting – in case you haven’t heard – is the new smoking, in terms of damaging one’s health. Medical researchers now say that prolonged sitting is dangerous, associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems. Some have said that the office chair is worse for your health than smoking and kills more people than HIV. Even vigorous workouts before or after work may not compensate for extending sitting, they say.

Now, experts recommend that Americans aim to stand at least two hours of the day they’d normally sit at their desks, and to set a goal of increasing that to four hours.

There are now desks designed for standing, and some that adjust for sitting or standing. Until one of those is available, it’s suggested that one stand or walk to take phone calls; hold standing or walking meetings; walk to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an email; just get up and move.

The ultimate goal of the American Cancer Society’s study is to figure out how to prevent cancer. It’s interesting to me that just taking the time to complete a survey raised my awareness of factors that could affect my long-term health, causing me to make small changes. If it affects others in the same way, this study could have huge impacts for us all.