There's a Tamil saying that means it is bliss to be idle. But sitting carries its own risks, it is well known. And now scientists are hoping to offer acceptable guidelines on how long one could sit without inviting health problems. They have just concluded a two-day conference at Stanford University, USA, and their recommendations are awaited.
The scientists at the conference were encouraged to get up from their chairs, stretch their legs, pace the room, even stand during discussions ranging from the risks of inactivity to technological solutions for reducing time on one's behind.
"Certainly the irony of having everyone sit through a conference on the perils of sitting was not lost on us," said Anne Friedlander, a consulting professor of human biology at Stanford and an organizer of the two-day conference entitled The Science of Sedentary Behavior.
"The act of sitting may in and of itself creates health problems, sitting for long periods of time," says Ken Smith from the Stanford Center on Longevity.
"When you sit down, you unload many of your muscle groups. There is in fact, animal data that says that some of the muscles themselves, lose a significant ability to metabolize fat," says Smith told ABC7.
An average person sits for about seven hours a day, but once the number goes higher, to eight or nine hours a day of sitting, those people had more health problems.
"Sitting we know, it leads to risk factors for diabetes, they're the same risk factors for heart disease and they're also related to the likelihood of developing breast or colon cancer," says Neville Owen, Ph.D., from the Ph.D.,University of Queensland.
Scientists know the effects (weight gain, heart disease), but what they don't know is if sitting is the only
cause of those effects. For example, is the secretary's weight gain because she's been sitting all day, or is it because her boss belittles her for the majority of that time? Does a bus driver tend to have poorer health because he or she sits all day or is it because of the stress of the job? Is watching too much TV harmful because of the hours spent lounging on the couch or is it because commercials encourage you to eat more?
"We know there are links between too much sitting and risks to health," said David Dunstan, an associate professor at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. "But we have yet to figure out the exact causes and to what effect."
There's also no consensus on how much sitting is too much, though there is evidence suggesting that interrupting periods of prolonged sitting with frequent breaks is beneficial.
Marc Hamilton, a professor of inactivity physiology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., said the science needs to get to the point where policymakers can issue guidelines that will help people make healthful choices.
He drew a comparison to research on sun burns.
"How much sun exposure is too much? No one really knows, but we've gotten to a point where we can say confidently that we should limit our time in the sun," Hamilton told AP.