Dear Dr. Garner,
I saw you on TV last week talking about the harmful effects of sitting too much. What I would really like to know is whether the harmful effects of sitting can be undone, maybe by working out.
I am an avid exerciser who runs at least 30 minutes daily. My weight and blood pressure are normal. But I have a job that keeps me at my desk all day.
What am I supposed to do? As long as I am exercising, shouldn’t that be enough?
Sitting and standing in Sheepshead Bay
Dear Sitting and standing,
Before I answer your question, I would like to acknowledge the amazing Joe Stile. His dedication to the Church and community is exemplary, and he is admired by all who know him. He was recently inducted into our “Viewer Hall of Fame” of the Ask the Doctor show on NET. I look forward to interactions with Mr. Stile in the years to come.
I would also like to congratulate Gail Harvey, assistant principal of St. Saviour Catholic Academy, and longtime Tablet reader, on her 40th anniversary in Catholic education.
The question you pose regarding sitting is an important one. Sitting is not only bad for your health but also decreases life expectancy. To answer your first question, exercise does not undo the harmful effects of long periods of sitting. I urge you to continue working out as there are many health benefits. Sedentary behavior can be deadly.
Smoking reduces life expectancy by about two-and-a-half years. Prolonged sitting reduces life expectancy by about two years – not much different from cigarettes.
When you sit for a long time, the blood flow to your legs diminishes, and harmful chemicals are produced. When you sit longer than six hours, the risk of blood clots occurs as well as obesity, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer and mental problems. There is no doubt that depression is associated with sitting and sedentary lifestyle.
Sedentary people may develop what is known as the metabolic syndrome. This is a group of conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal levels of cholesterol. It can lead to many deadly conditions and eventually death. People who sit more than 11 hours a day have a 40 percent increased risk of dying from all causes compared with those who sit less.
Bad effects from prolonged sitting are also caused by difficulty in digesting or metabolizing food. With prolonged sitting, there is increased fat and insulin, which leads to unhealthy changes in the body. Accumulation of fat also occurs in the organs, which can be deadly.
People who watch TV more than four hours a day have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and 125 percent increased risk of death from heart attack.
You do not have to take this sitting down (couldn’t resist). There are ways to overcome the sitting problem. Here are some suggestions:
1. Schedule (walking) meetings so people can discuss issues while walking around the block.
2. Enforce the rule that people must stand when on the phone.
3. Use workstations or keyboards that require standing. Even standing a minute or two an hour can make a difference. Keep moving while at the desk. Even fidgety movements seem to help the body deal with prolonged sitting.
4. Always take the stairs.
5. Don’t call people within the office. Walk over to the person’s desk if you have to ask a question.
I hope that the readers appreciate just how harmful sitting for a long period of time can be.
I would like to hear your suggestions on how to keep active at work and cut down on sitting. The most original answer will win a trip to the Ask the Doctor studio and see part of the show live. The challenge is to find a way to avoid sitting at a typical desk job.
I have received so many inquiries about the Ask the Doctor show. We will resume live shows in early March. For now, you can see re-runs during the week at 10 a.m. on NET TV.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Ch. 97 Time Warner and Ch. 30 Cablevision.