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  • Timothy P. Smith MS, RD, LDN

Is Sitting "The New Sugar"?

My favorite thing in the world is sitting. That is not a joke. Sitting on your rump is comfortable, it's easy, you're upright to experience things (as opposed to lying down), it's a great position for staying still at work, and it takes pressure off of your feet. Unfortunately though, sitting is too easy.


According to JustStand.org, working for 8 hours while standing burns 300 more calories than work done while seated. So, are these data practical? We'll find out soon, but first: Let's look at some epidemiological data on our collective sitting habits.


Water me & let me sit; I will flourish.
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In 2016, we spent an extra hour sitting each day when compared to just 2007; that's an extra 5% of your day. Even further, it was estimated that 62% of kids from ages 5-11 years spent two or more hours sitting, while watching some form of video media each day, compared to 59% of teenagers, and 65% of adults watching the same. [1]


Even more, we it appears that Covid lockdowns haven't helped. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, the average American is now sitting for an extra four hours per day, when compared to before the pandemic. Almost 1 in 5 Americans have added more than seven hours of extra tookis-time every day, when compared to March 2020. [2]


Until recently, I understood the most significant risks of sitting are due to sitting with bad posture. Sitting with rounded shoulders & a slouched lumbar spine is easy, but "easy" is rarely synonymous associated with "least likely to blow out a disc". However, it seems that too much sitting could also have metabolic implications, extending far beyond just chronic back pain. Luckily, a novel 2021 study is helping us shed light on what exactly those implications are.


"Sitting with rounded shoulders & a slouched lumbar spine is easy, but easy is rarely synonymous with 'least likely to blow out a disc'."
 

In a May 2021 paper from the journal Obesity, researchers aimed to find out: How do our everyday behaviors (such as walking, exercise, etc.) affect our bodies' ability to lose weight & keep it off?


To get an answer to this question, researchers looked at the habits of two groups of people:


Treatment Group: Formerly obese individuals who have achieved their fat loss goals, and have been successful in maintaining their results for at least 3 years.


Control Group: Obese individuals recruited from the general population.


Several trends were investigated; these data were then analyzed for between-group differences. After analysis, it was found that those who have been successful in maintaining their fat loss results only sit for an average of 9.7 hours each day, compared to nearly 13 hours for those in the obesity group. [3]


Even further, those in the treatment group spent about an hour less on seated leisure activities such as playing video games, when compared to the control group. Even cooler: This particular point is corroborated by data from the National Weight Control Registry, which revealed that people who maintain their weight loss goals for the long haul tend to sit & watch TV for less than 10 hours per week. [4]


After analysis, it was found that those in the treatment group burned an additional 1,835 calories each week as a consequence of moving more, compared to just 785 calories per week for those in the control group. [3] So, what does it all mean?


"So, what does it all mean?"
 

Based on these data, it appears that more time standing seems to attenuate weight gain following a successful weight loss journey. But is that actually the case? Instead, it could be: Less time sitting means more time moving, and more time moving means more calories spent.


So ultimately, it does seem that these data are practical & useful; especially considering that these negative effects of sitting are supported by an even more robust body of evidence. So the question remains: "Why do we observe this effect?"


The answer: "More research is needed."


Either way, the common denominator for health: Get up.



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References:


1.) Yang L, Cao C, Kantor ED, et al. Trends in Sedentary Behavior Among the US Population, 2001-2016. JAMA. 2019;321(16):1587–1597. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.3636


2.) Melore, Chris, et al. “Study Finds Working Remotely Is Literally a Pain the Backside for Nearly a Quarter of Americans.” Study Finds, 1 Dec. 2020, www.studyfinds.org/working-remotely-pain-in-backside/.


3.) Roake, J., Phelan, S., Alarcon, N., Keadle, S.K., Rethorst, C.D. and Foster, G.D. (2021), Sitting Time, Type, and Context Among Long-Term Weight-Loss Maintainers. Obesity, 29: 1067-1073. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23148


4.) Busko, Marlene. “'Sit Less, Move More' May Be Key to Keeping Weight Off.” Medscape, Medscape, 26 May 2021, www.medscape.com/viewarticle/951913.





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