To sit or not to sit: What’s best for your health?

Right now, during the middle of winter, you probably find yourself indoors more than usual.

And one of the things we tend to do more while indoors is sit.

Of course, we’ve all heard that sitting too much is bad for our health. But is the actual problem that sitting more simply correlates with less physical activity? Or is sitting itself the issue?

Well, a recent debate at the 2019 annual meetings of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes yielded some surprising conclusions about sedentary behavior (sitting).

What happens when you sit too much

The expert who presented what you might call the “anti-sitting” side of the debate cited studies showing that sitting for more than nine hours per day is associated with increased risks of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

In fact, one study showed a “dose-response” effect of 22 percent increased risk of Type II diabetes for each additional hour spent sitting. And other research shows that one-third of people with diabetes don’t engage in any form of physical activity.

The good news is, studies also show you can counteract the effects of prolonged periods of sitting with short intervals of light physical activity. Even a simple change in position, like standing up, is beneficial.

In one study, just three minutes of light physical activity (like stretching or walking), for each hour of sitting, improved daily blood sugar and insulin levels by an impressive 30 percent.

So maybe sitting isn’t so bad after all?

On the other side of the debate, there are studies showing that the first eight hours of sitting per day is not associated with detrimental effects on health. And since the typical amount of time most people spend sitting is six to eight hours a day, there’s really no need to urge them to sit less.

Plus, as I’ve reported before, most of the studies conducted on sitting have focused on time spent in front of a television. And prolonged television watching is recognized as a risk factor for diabetes and obesity—but it’s also associated with other risk factors, such as snacking, weight gain, and disturbing “mind-body” effects.

Either way, you can counteract “too much” sitting by being sufficiently active throughout the day. In fact, some research shows that walking for just 2.5 minutes each hour has an impact equal to sitting one hour less.

So, if you find yourself sitting more than eight hours a day, you can lower your risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases by simply walking around or engaging in other forms of light activity for two to three minutes each hour.

How you sit is as important as how MUCH you sit

It’s also important to note that your mental state while sitting is critically important. From a mind-body standpoint, how you sit can make a world of difference.

If you’re sitting while meditating, for instance, that’s much more healthful than “high-risk” sitting—i.e. watching television.

In my view, the whole “sitting vs. not sitting” debate boils down to the same conclusion as so many other aspects of health: Moderation is key.

Sitting all day every day will undoubtedly impact your health in a negative way. But there’s no need to be afraid of settling into your favorite armchair for a few hours of rest and relaxation. And there’s also no need to go to extremes, scheduling artificial “workouts” in artificial environments every day. (In fact, that’s entirely counterproductive.)

Science indicates you can lower your risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions simply by enjoying the benefits of moderate and light physical activity as they naturally and normally accumulate during the course of the day.

So, just let that sit for a while…