This is What Sitting is Actually Doing to Your Health

Shaun Francis, CEO of Medcan reveals how sitting is impacting your health, as well as a few micro things you can do anywhere to get your body moving.

Medcan, woman sitting on train photo credit: shutterstock

Maybe it’s not something you think about daily, but sitting is impacting your health whether you like it or not.

It’s your morning commute on the train, a drive-thru everywhere you turn, and the office job that leaves you glued to your desk all day that makes one thing crystal clear: we live a very sedentary lifestyle. “Especially in North America, we’re drawn to conserving energy,” says Shaun Francis, who is the Chair and CEO of Medcan, a corporate wellness and executive health clinic in Toronto.

In Francis’ new book, Eat Move Think: The Path to a Healthier, Stronger, Happier You, researchers conducted a survey by visiting people in their homes and asking them about their daily habits. In addition to the survey questions, “researchers studied the men and women for thirteen years, tracking their health, noting who died, who lived, who stayed in good health, and who contracted disease.” The findings show that the amount of time spent sitting strongly affects how long a person lives, and whether they develop a disease. Women are particularly vulnerable to the health risks associated with sitting disease. 

Francis indicated that although scientists don’t have a specific answer as to why sitting is bad, the main concern are long periods of inactivity (think: hours at a time). So yes, sitting is an issue even if you exercise daily. According to Francis, you’re better off to exercise for 30 minutes and stand as much as possible during than day, than if you exercised for an hour every day but spend the rest of your time sitting. Just remember: If you stand and don’t workout, that doesn’t count for your workout either.

Luckily, there are a few micro things you can do daily to live a healthier, more mobile lifestyle.

Get moving

For Francis, moving is part of his daily behaviour. “It’s not this optional thing, it’s what I do,” he says.

One of the main ways he uses motion to break up sedentary periods is by fidgeting. Here are a few of his in-office tips:

  • When you’re on a phone call, always be walking and never sitting.
  • Take a meeting and go for a walk around the block instead of sitting in a board room.
  • Consider using a standing desk or sitting on an exercise ball as opposed to a chair.

Like Francis, being active is a way of life for Donovan Bailey, a former Canadian Olympic sprinter (he won gold at the 1996 Summer Games). As an ambassador for Dr. Scholl’s new campaign, Born to Move, Bailey wants people to recognize that it is essential for your health to get up and get moving. “It’s the foundation of good health and disease prevention,” he says.

Fit a workout in wherever you can

You don’t need to sweat it out at the gym for your workout to count. It could be as simple as a 10-minute workout. For an in-office workout, “I’ll do 100 pushups, 100 sit ups, 100 squats, 100 tricep dips off a chair (in repetitions of 25),” says Francis. “It’s a full-body workout that you can do anywhere — and it only takes 10 minutes,” he says. Just make sure you know the right way to stretch before your next workout.

And if you’re into more of a cardio workout, and a treadmill is in sight, Francis suggests this 10 minute session: one minute sprint, one minute walk, and repeat. “This has the same benefit as jogging for a couple of hours, in terms of increasing your VO2 max, so really time is no limit” he says. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of endorphins to carry you through your day.

Do a full-body stretch

“Sitting is a flex posture,” says Dr. Andrew Miners, a chiropractor and director of sports medicine at Medcan. But there is a motion that you can do daily to improve your posture and give your entire body an amazing stretch, which he calls the standing extension relief. For this stretch, Dr. Miners says to stand up tall, as though you are being pulled by a rope from the top of your head. Then arch your back, inhale deeply to expand your rib cage, angle your head as high as your neck allows, and extend your arms out as wide as possible. Perform this motion every so often when you want to change things up from your seated position.

Takeaway: Break up those long periods of sitting

Whether you’re at work, at the airport, or at home watching Netflix, it is important to break up your sitting time with some sort of motion (e.g. fidgeting, exercise or a full-body stretch). In the end, these behaviours are the only way to actively reprogram your brain to live a healthier life. Next, read up on the things fit women do everyday.