When sitting is good for you
A popular news topic lately is the danger of sitting too much. You can’t read a newspaper or website without hearing that sitting is bad for your health—really bad. And since the average American sits for 13 hours a day, not counting time at work, well, we’re in trouble. We’re being told that even if we exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods puts us at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and an early death.
As we’re learning that sitting is extra bad for us, we’re also learning that bicycling for transportation is extra good. A study of 30,000 people found that even after adjusting for other risk factors, those who did not bicycle to work were 40% more likely to die prematurely. Regardless of how much you exercise, bike commuting reduces your risk of early death. Another study concluded that leisure time physical activity alone may not be sufficient enough to prevent obesity, and that additional movement like bicycling for transportation is needed. Again we see that jogging or going to the gym is not enough. Could bicycling for transportation be a way to counteract the effects of sitting?
The average U.S. commute is 46 minutes round trip. While that’s only a small portion of the other 13 hours we Americans spend on our butts outside of the office, replacing two 23-minute drives a day with a couple of bike rides seems like a great way to avoid the negative effects of sitting while reaping the positive effects of utilitarian bicycling.
So, sitting can actually be good for you—if you’re on a bike.
Bicycling for transportation has something special that makes it different than regular exercise. It is cheap to successfully promote, it’s easier to make into a habit due to its frequent association with a necessary trip (the work commute), and it’s vigorous enough to be effective without being too high-intensity. Now, research shows that it can help you live longer.
With these findings in hand, let’s make sure that transportation bicycling is a part of the growing discussion on the negative effects of sitting. For the cost of an adjustable stand-up desk, you can buy a lovely commuter bike—and the latter sure is a lot more fun to use.