According to studies, I’ve lost two hours off my life, just today. And I don’t care; I’ve enjoyed the sitting and as I enter the last decade or so of my life, I’m not going to apologize for sitting, despite the best intentions of the experts.
That includes you, James Levine, the Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who is the godfather of getting people to stand up more. And I can appreciate his efforts. Sitting can lead to obesity. Obesity leads to disease. Disease leads to death. I get it. Disease stinks. I think the jury is still out on the whole death thing.
In his article on Vox today, Joseph Stromberg, the science writer, goes all in on not sitting. And he does so in the usual way: Adding up numbers to make the numbers even more impressive.
It varies widely from person to person, but it’s estimated that you burn an extra 50 calories per hour when standing, compared to sitting. This might not sound like a lot, but it adds up if you sit for eight hours per day, five days a week.
Standing just half that time means you’ll burn an extra 1000 calories each week without changing your diet or exercise. Do it for a year, and that’s about 50,000 extra calories — the rough equivalent of running 15 marathons.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to run 15 marathons. First of all, let’s ignore the fact marathons aren’t all that good for you, according to some research.
But there’s also this: I’m not looking to die, I’m not looking to live forever, either. As the gospel of Pete Townshend teaches, if the latter years of one’s life could be lived as a young person, that would be preferable to the reality that we live them as old people.
So when Stromberg claims that sitting for six hours a day can shave years off your life, I’m pretty OK with that.
Time spent watching TV is often used as a convenient metric for sitting at home, since people tend to more accurately report how they watched TV on a given day than how long they sat. And research has found, for instance, that compared to adults who spend two or fewer hours per day sitting and watching TV, those who spend four or more have a 125 percent increased chance of heart attack, chest pain, or other symptoms of cardiovascular disease, even when controlling for diet and exercise.
Other work has found that adults who spend the most time sitting have a 112 percent increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes — and that for adults already at risk of developing diabetes, time spent sitting is a bigger risk factor than getting enough exercise.
All this also applies to cancer. “We observed that each 2-hour per day increase in sitting time was associated with increased risks of cancers of the colon and endometrium, and with a borderline significant increased risk of lung cancer,” says Daniela Schmid, lead author of the recent analysis of sitting and cancer risk. “The results were independent of physical activity, showing that sedentary behavior represents a potential cancer risk factor distinct from physical inactivity.”
I get it. Something’s going to kill me eventually.
I’m obviously not interested in being obese or suffering its health effects. I’ll have a salad for lunch today. I’ll eat it sitting down.
Stromberg says studies show sitting six or more hours a day will kill me 5 years sooner than when whatever is going to kill me actually kills me. And that every hour I spend watching TV, claims almost 22 minutes. So watching the final episode of Orange is the New Black last night cost me a half hour. It’s a fair trade.
And so is the time I give up by sitting out on the deck on Saturday morning, listening to the birds, watching the clouds, and reading the paper while drinking some coffee. I’ve often thought that if there’s a heaven, it involves a lot of sitting on the deck in Minnesota in June. The sooner the better, I say.
We’re not going to live forever; that’s a fact. The real tragedy, it seems to me, is we outlive our ability to sustain ourselves financially, placing burdens on our loved ones, a situation we have spent most of our lives trying to avoid.
There’s something not to stand for.