Is Sitting Bad For Your Health?

“You can help us clean the house by dusting all the chairs,” I said to my daughter. I thought the lilt in my voice made the task sound fun and exciting.  She was about 8 at the time.

She grabbed the dust cloth rather reluctantly, sighed heavily and ambled to the living room. We have a lot of chairs, including some family pieces dating back to about 1870.

She daintily brushed the top of a dining room chair quickly before moving to the next one.

“Be sure to dust all the wood, and don’t forget to dust underneath the chairs,” I said as I picked up a dust cloth to help. I was trying not to sound exactly like a drill sergeant.

I watched as she approached an upholstered chair that had been her great-great-grandfather’s. It’s narrow and fairly low to the floor, and has a very straight back. When I was a child, it was reupholstered with some extra padding added. Before that, you only sat in it a few minutes before you were ready to get up and do something besides sitting.

Then she approached a chair with roses carved into the back. Once her great-great-grandmother’s chair, this small chair functions more for decoration than for back support. Most adults were a lot smaller back then. The roses aren’t very comfortable against your back, either.

Finally we reached our family room, which has modern, overstuffed, large furniture bought in the past few years. Everyone in our family tends to park in these chairs for too long.

As we dusted our way through a bit of family history, I became curious about ancient chairs. As I learned from my information quest, chairs often were reserved for royal families. Many early chairs were stools without backs, and most people sat on the ground to rest or perhaps sat on a cushion or a log, depending on where you lived.

Civilizations across the world have had a quest through time for the ultimate in beautiful and/or functional chairs. Unfortunately, when we sit for extended periods of time, we may be shortening our lives.

According to a study published in the March 2012 Archives of Internal Medicine, people who sit 11 hours a day may be 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years than those who sit a shorter amount of time. Compared with those who sat less than four hours a day, those who sat for eight to 11 hours daily faced 15 percent higher odds of dying.

The Australian researchers examined data collected from more than 222,000 people age 45 and older, and they ruled out other factors, including age, gender and weight.

The topic of sitting too much has intrigued other researchers, too. Another group linked excessive sitting with increasing our risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

We can’t blame being sedentary on the chairs, though. Since our great-great-grandparents’ time, our lives have changed drastically. Our ancestors didn’t have laptops, cell phones, cars, microwave ovens, washing machines and all the conveniences that give us more time to sit.

Today, many jobs are sedentary ones, where people are seated at desks for long hours. We certainly want comfortable, ergonomic chairs to support our backs, but we might want to make an effort to get out of our chairs regularly during the day.

Some people are very creative in their efforts to stay healthy while getting their work done. Some sit on large exercise balls at their desks. Others stand while they talk on the phone, walk over to talk to someone instead of calling them or bring their reading assignments to a treadmill.

We all need about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Find an activity that works for you, whether it’s swimming, biking or walking. Try taking two 15-minute brisk walks, instead of two 15-minute coffee breaks, and you have met the physical activity recommendation.

Along with more physical activity, don’t forget a healthful eating plan with the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy. For more information about nutrition and fitness, including video recipes, visit http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart.

Here’s a tasty portable snack that could be expanded to serve at a festive spring event, such as a graduation party or picnic.

Turkey and Veggie Wraps

3 ounces nonfat cream cheese
2 large whole-wheat flour tortillas
1/2 medium carrot, cut into thin strips
1/2 yellow or green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
4 ounces reduced-sodium sliced turkey breast

Place cream cheese in a bowl and blend until smooth with a hand mixer or food processor. Lay tortillas on a work surface and spread with cream cheese spread. Place carrot, pepper and turkey over cheese spread. Roll tortilla and slice into 3-inch pieces. Makes 4 servings.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 11 g of protein, 15 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 330 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)