The heath concerns in spending the day sitting

by Misha Noble-Hearle
Travis Saunders, taking a break from sitting. Credit: Nick Pearce

We know that being a couch potato may not be the picture of health. But it's allowed as long as we are physically active, right?

Wrong.

Travis Saunders, a Heart and Stroke Postdoctoral Fellow in Dalhousie's Department of Medicine, researches the detrimental impacts of . Earlier this week, he shared insights with Dal staff and faculty at a professional development workshop hosted by Human Resources as part of its "Move More Month" initiative.

"I was one of those people we now refer to as an 'active ,'" says Dr. Saunders, a cross-country athlete during his undergraduate and masters degrees. "I was running an hour to an hour and a half a day, so far exceeding any guidelines," he explains. "I thought I was this paragon of health, but then I realized that actually it's still bad for me to sit, even if I'm active."

Along with guidance from his PhD supervisor, Dr. Saunders's interest in the relationship between sedentary activity and health came from his personal experience. (He received a PhD in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa last year.)

Shutting down the pumps

So just how is sitting affecting us?

Dr. Saunders' research focuses on how sitting, even paired with physical activity, can be bad for our health. It prevents sugar and fat from being pumped out of our blood and into our muscles. He says our muscles are like little vacuum pumps that suck the sugar and fat out of our blood.

"So when we're sitting for a long time, those pumps shut off and no more sugar and fat are going into your muscles. It just ends up building up in your blood."

What's more, sitting in front of a computer or a TV screen contributes further to a decline in health because it makes us want to eat more. Saunders says mental work, along with food commercials on television, is actually proven to increase our food intake.

"That's why sitting in front of a TV is bad because not only are you not burning calories, not only are these metabolic pumps shutting off in your muscle, but you are also going to eat more than you need," Dr. Saunders says. "It's this trifecta of bad health."

Getting off the chair

That's tough news to hear when so much of our work is done at a computer desk. Luckily, Dr. Saunders's research also looks at how we can reverse our sitting habits.

While working on his PhD research, Dr. Saunders practiced what he was starting to preach. He set up a homemade standing workstation using an IKEA laptop desk and old textbooks, allowing him to switch between standing and sitting. He encouraged hospital staff to do "walking meetings," arranging for timed, planned-out walking routes to be put on the database so groups could book according to how much time was needed.

"You can review your day and look at what things you do sitting down because you need to sit, and what things you do sitting down because that's just what you do," says Dr. Saunders.

Even getting up every 20 or 30 minutes can get the blood flowing and the working.

Dr. Saunders is originally from Fredericton, and was excited by the opportunity to move back to the Maritimes for his post-doctoral work.

"It's a way to take research and translate it so someone who doesn't have a research background can understand why the research matters and why it applies to their lives," he says.

Related Stories

Frequent breaks from sedentary behavior makes kids healthier

date Nov 20, 2013

Canadian kids spend more than half their waking hours engaged in sedentary behaviour—watching television, playing video games or just sitting around. Studies involving adult populations suggest that breaks in sedentary ...

Recommended for you

New measures identified for newborn care in Uganda

date 12 minutes ago

In Uganda, child mortality rates are improving, but progress is slower for deaths occurring in the first four weeks of life, or the newborn period, and for stillbirths. But recent evidence from local researchers ...

Should men cut back on their soy intake?

date 2 hours ago

Recently, a friend called my husband to inquire about the risks for men in consuming too much soy milk. He had read an article that described how one individual's plight led him down the path of breast enlargement, and was ...

Probing Question: What is umami?

date 3 hours ago

The next time you're at a dinner party and want to spice up the conversation, you might compliment the hosts on their umami-rich appetizers. Then wait a moment until someone invariably asks, "What's umami?"

Will the Affordable Care Act eliminate health disparities?

date 4 hours ago

Massachusetts' health reform may be a crystal ball for researchers and policymakers in forecasting the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act. Many see the ACA as the backbone of efforts toward closing the nation's health ...

Experts question election pledges on GP access

date 16 hours ago

As the general election in the UK approaches, experts writing in The BMJ this week question whether the party promises on access to general practice are likely to be achievable.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
Mar 03, 2014
Obama and Michelle and a few other notable Progressives are now planning to wage a war on chairs. They want to increase taxes on chairs to pay for the damage they inflict, and want to install timers on all new chairs sold in 2015 to limit the number of minutes a person can sit on them.

Obama has stated that these rules are in the Obamacare act. If someone manages to read the whole act and they are not currenlty there, he will use his Pen and Phone to implement these new regulations as these regulations will save American lives.

Conservatives who oppose or even question Obama implementing these rules have or shortly will be audited by the IRS, will have their communications monitored by the NSA, will have their offices raided by the FBI and/or DHS.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.