Over the last decade, evidence asserts that Chair-a-holics are at greater risk of 34 diseases and chronic conditions. The chair sentence has been linked to not only metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol but also obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer (especially breast cancer), joint problems, bad sleep, poor sexual function, depression, and premature death. Are we addicted to our chairs, like alcoholics to drink, or has society imposed a chair sentence upon us? Has the Chairman stripped us of the will to get up?
On one hand, there is good evidence from neuroscience and experimental psychology that mammals and humans have variable tendencies to be sedentary or active. Several brain chemicals have been discovered that lull a person onto their sofa or perpetuate walking. One such chemical is Orexin. Orexin deficient animals are sleepy and inactive. When animals receive an injection of Orexin into their hypothalamus, which is at the center of the brain, they abruptly get up and frenetically move until the chemical wears off. Such experiments have not been conducted in humans. However, studies examining human behavior, some involving the embedding of electronic surveillance equipment into underwear, have demonstrated that some people are prone to sink their buttocks into their sofas while others, living in similarly chair seductive environments, can be far more active. Chair-prone people, the animal data suggest, have brains that are dulled to the effect of Orexin, while active people are super-responders to such chemicals. In fact, people prone to have obesity are seduced into their chairs for more than two hours a day—more than lean counterparts living in similar environments.
En masse, the data suggest that people respond very differently to similar cues and enticements to sit. Watch people arriving at a party: Some will dash for the nearest chair as if it is a safe haven, whereas others naturally pace around the room as if exploring. Most of us can walk past a bar or cigarette stand without pause—but this is not necessarily so with alcoholics and smokers. Just as people have different predispositions to various addictions such as shopping, alcohol, dangerous sports, or high-risk sex; similarly there are varying propensities to be a chair addict. What is certain, regardless of whether you are thin or carry a few extra pounds, chair addiction is lethal. For every hour of excess sitting, two hours of life walk away!
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Dr. James A. Levine is the Director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Solutions Initiative and is the inventor of multiple activity tracking devices, as well as the treadmill desk. He has published more than 100 scientific papers, worked on dozens of corporate programs, and his work has been featured on Rock Center, 60 Minutes, BBC, The New York Times, and The Times of London. His new book, Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, will be available on July 29, 2014 from Macmillan Publishers.