Thursday, May 26, 2011

Take a Seat and a Breath 

Gustav Arthur (1902-2000) and Josephine Cooper
Scientists calculate death statistics from sitting while at their desks.

All this talk that sitting too much is killing you or is bad for you or was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire or whatever is pretty much bullshit. There. I call bullshit. Maybe sitting too much can wreck havoc on your back or more strangely cause a sort of waking apnea (a slowness of breathing to the point where you stop entirely and momentarily). Maybe it doesn’t help you metabolize or worsens circulation in your lower extremities, but death? I highly doubt any coroner will ever declare death by sitting (minus those unfortunate folks who suffered strokes after very long immobile periods on trans-Atlantic flights). A New York Times blog post claims you increase your chance of a heart or stroke by 65% if you sit more than 22 hours a week. This insane graphic seems to say your chance of DEATH increases by 40% and that people who sit more than 9.3 hours a day, will die 15 YEARS earlier than those of us who don’t sit that much.

That is im-fucking-possible. The New York Times article claims very specifically that the study it refers to, speaks directly about heart disease in men, who have desk jobs and thus sit at least 22 hours a week; this effect is surprisingly not offset by as much as three hours a week of cardiovascular exercise.

Men. Heart disease. Are we clear? Not everyone. Not imminent death.

I reason that even if my risk of heart disease (about 4% according to my health profile compared to millions of men in a GE health database) increases even as much as 65%, that still only means I have less than a 7% chance of heart disease or stroke. It doesn’t suddenly mean I have a 65% chance of dying (whatever such a statistic would mean). I have a low risk because of genetic luck, statistics, diet and exercise. I really don’t know where this idea that sitting kills came about other than idiocy. Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure and they are bad at math.

Another reason this is utter bullocks (weird punnery aside, “udder bullocks”?), is that if it were true, the average lifespan of men, particularly in Western societies (read, “advanced, technocratic sitting” ones) would either have declined with increasing office employment and decreasing manufacturing jobs or have stayed the same rather than increased. Why has the average lifespan increased? Probably a combination of diet (even high caloric excessive ones), medical science (New heart? Don’t mind if I do!), and safety and security (I’ll let American drones do my fightin’ and Japanese robots do my weldin’).

I’m no expert, but I no longer trust cartoons calling themselves infographics, and since the formation of the Canadian Conservative Party, I no longer trust another person’s accounting, math or pseudo number crunching. That and I refuse to admit all my God damn jogging, riding and swimming adds up to nothing. I’ve never been stronger or fitter and I don’t even look in shape (I’ve seen melted candles with better abs). Last night I did a short 4.5 KM run at my fastest pace yet (fastest mile at 8 mins, fastest pace at 5’ 45”/KM and fastest 5 KM at 28 minutes). My resting heart rate this morning was 60 BPM. The last time I had my blood pressure checked it was something like 120 / 70. I have no idea of my cholesterol or % body fat, but at 152 pounds for 5’-8”, my BMI is well within normal ranges (no matter how you calculate it).

Sure, my back gets sore from sitting too much. Sure, I occasionally stand at my desk. Do I sit uninterrupted for long periods? Yes. For longer than an hour at time? Rarely. It’s unlikely I’m ever in one position for that long. Try measuring it one day and you’ll see the same thing.

What triggered this? Partly my own alarm at the inference. Partly, that after reasoning it was all a bit unbelievable I continued to see the thing repeated. Mostly, it was because someone decided to create a cartoon and widely distribute it as an infographic. There are far too many bad graphics in this world, why we need these “infauxgraphics” is beyond me. I think you can tell I’m as mad as hell and that I am not going to stand for it anymore.

UPDATE: I've since found other New York times articles discussing similar articles; Is Sitting a Lethal Activity and Stand Up While You Read This!
Generally, I'm pretty amazed that in none of these articles or blog posts does the journalist seem to dispute the study or findings. I mean, fer fucks sake, one the studies claims an hour of watching tv takes more time off your life than smoking a cigarette! I think it's the Australian study that shouts you have an "increased risk of dying"? That's so meaningless. My risk of dying is 100%. It happens to everyone eventually. You can't logically increase or decrease the chance you will die? I've got bad news for you. You will die. 100% chance. The fact no one questioned what that study intended to say or mean is sort of crazy. So I stand by my position that I sit, and that's not nearly as bad as these unquestioned studies.



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