Avoiding Self-Sabotage (Part Three)

Over the last couple of posts, we have been looking at the four most common pitfalls associated with resilience training - or for that matter, any kind of lifestyle / behavior change. Namely:

1) Too much time awake
2) Too much artificial light
3) Too much sugar
4) Too much sitting

For a full description of pitfalls 1 to 3, see previous posts. Here, we will be looking at the final pitfall.

2) Too much sitting

Problem: Note the phrasing, here. In the first post in this series, we looked at the perils of sleep deprivation. But we didn’t state the problem in terms of “not getting enough sleep.” This is because absolute sleep requirements vary. They vary with metabolism, with activity, even with altitude, and even with environment.

I once did a wilderness survival course with legendary master of Systema Konstantin Komarov, we spent three days in a mountain forest - building shelters from foliage, learning to track and navigate and practicing combat techniques. In the cold, damp, hastily-built shelters, we averaged 2-3 hours of sleep per night. Yet we all left the camp feeling alert and invigorated. The explanation? The lush, green forest provided more available oxygen than most of us urbanites were used to. Hence, snatching 3 hours of sleep here was like getting 6 hours in the city.

As we said before, the real problem here is not the net amount of time you spend asleep, it’s the net amount of time you spend awake. With no opportunity to rest and recharge, your body has no chance to conduct essential housekeeping and repairs; your brain fails to “wire in” new memories and learning; and attention, judgement, and emotional stability all become impaired.
So it is with sitting. It’s not the net amount of time you spend moving and exercising that’s important. It’s the net amount of time you spend static and stagnant.

The average American spends 9-10 hours of their day sitting. This includes time spent seated at a static desk or computer, slumped on the couch at home, or sitting down to eat and drink. Sitting for such prolonged periods affects practically every system in your body.

Here’s how:

  • In the musculoskeletal system, sitting weakens muscles and tendons, and leaves bones more porous and brittle - increasing your risk of osteoporosis and bone breaks.
  • In the circulatory system, it weakens cardiac muscle, makes blood vessels stiff and inflexible, and decreases the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood.
  • In the immune system, it slows the movement of lymph to a crawl, making infections more frequent and harder to fight off.
  • In the endocrine system, it elevates your resting levels of the stress hormone cortisol and makes your body more resistant to the effects of insulin - leaving you predisposed to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • In the nervous system, it leads to the gradual loss of brain volume - especially in areas related to movement, memory, and learning - increasing your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

Compelling recent research has shown that chronic sitting increases your risk of developing your risk of developing diabetes by 100%, your risk of developing circulatory or heart disease by 150%, and your chance of dying from any given disease by 50%.

Now here’s the thing - even if you eat right and exercise regularly, this will not counteract the accumulated effects of sitting still for 8 to 12 hours a day.

This is why I have phrased this pitfall “too much sitting”, rather than “not enough exercise”. Chronic sitting has its own negative effects that are quite distinct from those of insufficient exercise. In fact, even if you exercise to the level of a competitive athlete, if it is done between prolonged bouts (8-12 hours) of sitting, you will still suffer most of the negative effects outlined above.


1) Take stock of the amount of time you spend sitting still each day, and make an active decision to reduce it

2) If you have a sedentary job, make efforts to break up long periods of sitting wherever possible. Set your watch or smartphone to chime on the hour. When it goes off, stop what you’re doing immediately and move (if you’re in a meeting and can’t leave, just do all of this at the earliest possible opportunity after the meeting ends). Go for a 5-minute walk, or perform the 5-minute desk reset routine outlined in our Stress Proof classes and retreat. Done correctly, even a little of this type of movement is enough to reset your tension, stress and hormone levels, and counteract the worst effects of stasis.

3) Instead of snack breaks, take unscheduled movement breaks. Take every opportunity to move throughout your day. Phone calls to make? Batch them together, and do them all while walking outside. Stopping for gas on the way home? Do a few squats while the tank fills.
Watching TV? Sit on the floor, and you’ll feel more compelled to stretch or shift positions every once in a while. Implement all this, and you may well get some odd looks and comments here and there. But ask yourself - which would you rather be: weak, sick, and average, or strong, fit and stress proof?

It really is a choice. The next step is up to you.

Glenn Murphy