COLUMN: Death by Sitting

This is my Sunday column for the April 29, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Death by sitting
By Aaron J. Brown

As I sit here now I realize I’m going to die soon.

I mean, sooner than later.

I mean, sooner than I would if I were standing right now. And how am I supposed to stand up and do this? I have a deadline, you know. All my desks are built for chairs. Chairs are widely available around here. Look there’s one now! Right behind me! I’m sitting on it! Therefore I choose to keep writing and accept my terrible fate.

What I’m talking about is a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine that reviewed the cases of 200,000 Australians. It shows that sitting for prolonged periods is directly tied to earlier mortality. Exercise can help reduce this risk, but does not completely mitigate the risk of sitting more than 11 hours a day.

(I gleaned this study from one of my favorite blogs,, via a story in The Atlantic magazine. I figure Australians are a lot like Midwesterners, endearing accents and propensity toward beer among the unifying factors).

Adding an edge to the news, the study is actually determining the risk within the next three years. So regardless of your age or activity level, prolonged sitting increases the risk that anyone, anywhere will die within three years. If you buy a Twinkie and put it on a shelf you could eat it in three years. But if you sit and watch that Twinkie age, you yourself would be less likely to survive than the Twinkie.

OK, I’m standing up now. I started this in the sitting position, but now I’m typing at the kitchen counter. Does this mean I will live longer? I do not know. I do know that I smell food. Christina is cooking pizza tonight and the seasoned dough is rising in the bread maker. That bread maker is right next to me.

I do not know if this is scientific, but I believe that standing here will increase my risk of eating all the pizza. I am not referring to an appropriate serving of pizza, but rather the entire pan of pizza, devoured as a wolf would strip the flesh of a wounded deer. I would eat this pizza, release a guttural scream, and then slump onto the couch where, according to a recent study, I will probably die in less than three years.

Or maybe not? This is all so raw right now, early data, maybe I’ll live. Maybe?

I’ve been exercising again lately. Well, I did exercise last week. We got a gym membership. I’ll go again this week; kind of hard right now with the kids in school. I’ll drive there often in the summer time. Of course, we live a half hour from the gym which means that any exercise I do will come with an hour of deadly sit time. This is a paradox.

Then, also, there is the sitting time in the locker room while I wait for privacy because even though I am a grown up person I can’t change in a locker room without remembering that I hate changing with sweaty strangers now even more than I did when I was in school. Most of our lives we are told not to be naked. Wear clothes! Cover up! But then all of a sudden we are supposed to be naked in semi-public spaces and that is normal. Only weirdos think that’s weird. What kind of shirt is that guy wearing? Is that a shirt. My God, that is not a shirt. Do not look. That would be weird. Why am I here?

I am here to exercise, to make up for all the sitting, for which there is only one outcome, the cold release of death’s own hand.

Have a seat? No, thanks; I’ll stand. But for how long I do not know.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on public stations like 91.7 KAXE.

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