Colon Cancer & Sitting


The New York Times Well Blog discusses an alarming trend:

Incidences of colorectal cancer have been decreasing by about 1 percent a year since the mid 1980s, but incidences among people under 50 — the recommended screening age — has been increasing sharply, and these younger patients are more likely to present with advanced disease.


The article discusses findings published in JAMA. This information strikes close to my wife and I. Someone in her professional world has been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He is relatively young, not overweight and he has been moderately active. This has been a shock to a lot of people and we’re very sad for him and his family.

This situation makes me think about the research on sitting. Prolonged Sitting May Increase Risk of Certain Cancers is an article in Scientific American. The article states:

“The more time people spend sitting, the higher their risk of certain types of cancer, according to a new review of previous studies.

Researchers found that, with each 2-hour increase in people’s sitting time per day, their risk of colon cancer increased by 8 percent, and women’s risk of endometrial cancer increased by 10 percent.”

The person we know with colon cancer is a successful computer guy and he is very passionate and dedicated to his field of expertise and that’s dictated that he sits a lot. (I’m not placing blame on him, simply noting my observations as they relate to this data.) The Scientific American article also says,

“The results were independent of physical activity, showing that sedentary behavior represents a potential cancer risk factor, distinct from physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Daniela Schmid, of the University of Regensburg in Germany, told Live Science in an email.

So it seems that we can’t out-exercise our sitting habit. Sitting is a hazardous activity in and of itself. I am morbidly fascinated that modern humans have virtually eliminated threats such as animal predators and infectious disease from our lives, only to replace them with something like sitting. To me that’s solid proof that the creator of the universe is possessed of a real wacko sense of humor.

I have one question about the sitting-causes-cancer factor: What about bicycling? Is it literally putting my butt on a solid object that increases my risk or is it the staying still for hours on end? What if desk-bound workers were to somehow lay down for their work. Would the cancer risk also rise? My guess is that it’s being sedentary for hours and hours that’s the problem and that riding a bike is not carcinogenic. I’m also betting that someone is researching all of this and we’ll get some sort of answer soon.

Sitting is Hazardous to Your Health


The research showed that those who sat for long periods of time have a higher chance in their risk of diabetes, heart-disease and death.
Diabetes Research Group, University of Leicester

It’s been suggested that you sit too much. New research from the University of Leicester backs up this claim. (By the way, there are several other studies showing the same thing.  Look here, here, here.) The study combines the results of 18 different studies and includes nearly 800,000 participants. Here are the important details.  Emphasis is mine:

“The research showed that those who sat for long periods of time have a higher chance in their risk of diabetes, heart-disease and death.  Interestingly, the results were independent of any individual physical exercise undertaken, suggesting that even if an individual meets the physical activity guidelines, their health may still be at risk if they sit for long periods of time during the day.”

I find this fascinating. You’re putting yourself at risk of death if you sit too much–even if you’re highly physically active. So in this way, sitting is like smoking. We can’t seem to out-exercise our sitting habit. So what do we do?  We need to move a little.  Researchers suggest we take frequent breaks from sitting and go move around.

It’s often easy to sit at your desk for hours on end and not even know it.  We need to be reminded to move. So here’s an idea: Set a recurring meeting on your computer’s calendar.  Make it every half-hour or hour. Label it “Get up and move around.”  Otherwise, try this series of spine mobility drills. (Because it’s not just sitting per se that’s so bad, but lack of movement that’s the problem.  You can still move while sitting at your desk.)

The Dangers of Sitting; NEAT and the Benefits of Hunger: Part I


The longer you spend sitting each day, the more likely you are to die an early death — no matter how fit you are.

Right around Thanksgiving I discussed some of the science behind obesity and eating.  Now, the tremors of holiday gorging have started, and an eruption of Christmas binging is close at hand.  It’s cold outside and here in Colorado we’ve got several inches of snow on the ground.  This seems the ideal backdrop to look at obesity again, this time with an eye toward energy expenditure.

Two articles present slightly different information on the same general issue, that is the relationship between movement and obesity.  I’ll discuss the first article here and the second in part II of this post.  Your Body’s big enemy?  You’re sitting on it comes from  The article has two main topics.  First, we’re told of the consequences of our modern, mostly seated lifestyle.  We sit at our jobs.  We sit getting to our jobs.  We sit for entertainment.  And our many electronic tools allow us to live our lives while expending very little energy, especially when compared to the bulk of human history which featured far more physical labor than we currently experience.  Specifically we’re told about the biochemistry of too much sitting:

“When you sit for an extended period of time, your body starts to shut down at the metabolic level, says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When muscles — especially the big ones meant for movement, like those in your legs — are immobile, your circulation slows and you burn fewer calories. Key flab-burning enzymes responsible for breaking down triglycerides (a type of fat) simply start switching off. Sit for a full day and those fat burners plummet by 50 percent, Levine says.”

Sitting increases our risk of diabetes and heart disease and it may even increase our risk for depression.  It’s also none too good for our spinal health and posture.  A bottom-line assessment of sitting was observed by Canadian researchers: The longer you spend sitting each day, the more likely you are to die an early death — no matter how fit you are.  (The article stated this finding but I’m not sure exactly where or by whom this research was done.)

The second topic is NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  (Read more on NEAT from the Mayo Clinic.)  Examples of NEAT include tapping our toes, gesturing with our hands while talking, doing house work or yard work, standing while working or any sort of fidgeting–even chewing gum.  According to Mayo Clinic research, NEAT has a big impact.  A study found that after 10 days, lean participants moved an average of 150 minutes more per day than overweight participants  That translates to 350 calories, or about one cheeseburger.  Take that out to one month and that’s 10, 500 calories (3 lbs. of fat).  In one year NEAT may burn up to 127, 750 calories or almost 37 lbs. of fat!

What can we do with this information?  Well it goes to a discussion I’ve had with many of my personal training clients who are trying to lose weight.  Find a way to move around somehow.  An hour or a half-hour a day in a gym doesn’t add up to much by the end of the week.  We’ve got to find ways to move around a lot more than that.  Your body needs to move throughout the day.  Here are some ideas:

  • Stand up while talking on the phone.
  • Set the meeting timer on your Microsoft Outlook (or similar e-mail system) for every half-hour with this message: GET UP.  WALK AROUND.
  • Use the stairs.  Avoid elevators and escalators.
  • Wash dishes by hand.
  • Quit looking for the parking space closest to the mall or grocery store entrance.  Park way back in the back and walk to the entrance.

The bottom line is this: Sitting is death by a thousand keystrokes.  Moving yourself about the planet under your own power has tremendous health benefits.  Your body doesn’t care if you do it in a gym or whether or not you call it “exercise.”

Alright, you’re done reading.  GET ON YOUR FEET AND GO DO SOMETHING!