Studies find prolonged sitting poses serious health concerns unaffected by exercise
Sitting for extended periods of time can be harmful for a person’s health even if the person regularly exercises, according to new studies out of a New Zealand university.
Grant Schofield, a professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, found sitting for long periods increases the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers and may lead to an early death. It can also cause repetitive stress injuries, neck strain and lower-back issues. College students can be particularly affected by this because they sit for long periods of time in class.
To avoid long periods of sitting, Schofield recommended adjusting daily habits, such as standing up while talking on the phone or going for short walks during television commercial breaks, according to an article about the study on a Web site for New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB.
Sitting results in a lack of energy being used, making it easier to gain weight, which is associated with a less healthy lifestyle, said Sandra Bargainnier, coordinator of the physical education program at Syracuse University and a professor in the department of exercise science. Americans should take 10,000 steps each day, which equates to five miles, she said.
‘Part of me would hope you can ask a teacher to take a break in a three-hour class,’ Bargainnier said. ‘No one should sit for that long. I would encourage students to ask to take a break and move around.’
Lindsey Lerman, a freshman communications and rhetorical studies major, said she learned firsthand that sitting for long periods of time is not healthy. She has had back problems for many years stemming partially from sitting for too long and resulting in spinal surgery. During class, she tries to walk around and change positions because she knows she should not sit in the same position for too long.
‘Sitting for a majority of the day or even for consecutive hours is definitely something I’ve learned is an issue,’ Lerman said. ‘It’s hard to sit up straight in class, and poor posture just adds more pressure onto your spine. It’s not good for your back or your health to sit around aimlessly.’
Even standing in place is better for the body than sitting, Bargainnier said. She spent a year using a stability ball instead of a desk chair to focus more on her body while she was sitting. Some classrooms have replaced chairs with these exercise balls as well, she said.
Since the majority of Americans are overweight, non-exercise activity time should be incorporated into more people’s lives, Bargainnier said. This means taking part in non-structured activities such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to go get lunch instead of driving or having it delivered.
College students have the most time to take part in these types of activities, Bargainnier said. Students can walk around campus to get to their classes, walk to get food on Marshall Street and usually walk home from campus.
Bargainnier compared a postal carrier to an office worker. While the office worker is sitting behind a computer at a desk all day, the postal carrier is constantly moving.
‘It’s better if you are moving all day,’ she said. ‘The person walking around all day will probably have a longer life. We need more physical activity throughout the day.’
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