Alert! Stop sitting; it may just lengthen your life.

Sit Less, Live Longer?

We at Brill would like to reach out to all of our patients (especially those of you who sit and work at a desk for a living, which is… all of you?) to let you know about a very enlightening article that was printed in the New York Times on September 17 (by Gretchen Reynolds). It tells of a Swedish medical study that links the two ideas of lengthening cell life and sitting less. This study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and it set out to correlate between exercise, non-exercise-daily-activities and the length of telomeres in the white blood cells. “Telomeres?” you may ask, “Of what importance are they to me?” We generally understand that our bodies grow older through a long process of the cells of our bodies aging. One particularly recognizable marker of cell aging is the breakdown, or fraying, of our DNA strands. These strands have special bindings at the ends (like your shoelaces) called telomeres. The breakdown of the telomeres does not always progress linearly with time. Some poor health habits or other stressful conditions can hasten the early breakdown, while more healthy activities may actually preserve telomere length or even possibly promote lengthening – in essence postponing the onset of the aging process.

In the experiment the Swedish scientists (Sjogren, P., et al.) used a group of 49 people, all aged 68, and described as being sedentary and overweight. They measured the length of the telomeres in their white blood cells, and then split them into two groups. In one group, the volunteers began a specific exercise program, and were advised to sit less. The other group were to continue with their normal activities, but were asked to try to lose weight and lead as healthy a lifestyle as they could. Six months later all the subjects were brought in to fill out a detailed questionnaire about their activities, and they had a second blood draw.

The outcome was predictable in some ways. It showed that the group that was asked to just lose weight and live more healthily showed shortening of the telomeres. But interestingly, the subjects in the other group who reporting sitting much less showed significantly longer telomeres, in some cases the cells even seemed to have grown younger than on the first measure. However, in that same group, the subjects who reported exercising the most did not show specific lengthening of the telomeres, and in some cases had shortening of the telomeres when compared to those who exercised less but stood up more.

Now we in the physical therapy field all have learned that the position in which the spine takes the most pressure through it is the sitting position. We are actually putting an axial compressive force through our spines when we sit, which the spine was not originally made for. So this makes a certain sense to us. Now when we ask you to take breaks throughout your day from sitting at your desk, and either to stand or walk around, you have yet another reason to follow our advice.


Check out Andrew’s Youtube video: