We are told that sitting for long periods of time is terrible for us, and we know it. But, what exactly does sitting do to the body and how can it be countered? Let’s find out.
How Harmful Is Sitting?
While intuitively we know that regular sitting for an extended time is not good, research shows that its worse than many of us thought.
- A study showed that people who sat and watched TV had a 61% greater risk of dying than those who watched less than one hour a day.
- The high incidents of osteoporosis in recent years is partly caused by lack of activity, according to researchers.
- A review of studies on the effects of sitting showed that the risk of dying from prolonged sitting without engaging in physical activity was the same as dying from obesity and smoking.
Sitting’s Effects on the Body
Sitting affects our bodies from the top down. Here’s what prolonged sitting does to the body.
Brain – Brain functions slows down when we sit too long.
Neck – Working at a desk moves the neck forward. And holding a phone receiver up to the ear with a shoulder strains the cervical vertebrae. Both can lead to imbalances in the body’s structure including creating poor posture.
Shoulders – Sitting at a desk and working at the computer can cause you to round and slump the shoulders if you aren’t aware of your posture. Hunching puts a lot of weight on the upper spine and can lead to headaches, shortness of breath, and negatively impact the body in other ways.
Heart – Prolonged and frequent sitting can cause fatty acids to clog the heart. Protracted sitting has been connected to high blood pressure and cholesterol. Also, people with an inactive lifestyle are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who engage in some physical activity.
Abdomen – Sitting hunched weakens abdomen muscles because they aren’t being used. Abs help keep us upright when we stand or walk. Shortened and weak abdominal muscles also shorten and tense back muscles. The combination can lead to swayback.
Pancreas – The pancreas makes insulin, which carries glucose to cells for energy. Research showed that after just one day of extended sitting insulin production declined. Sitting too much has been linked to metabolic syndrome that includes obesity and diabetes.
Colon Cancer – The risk for colon cancer studies show increases with sitting. Breast and endometrial cancer are also considered to be related to sitting for extended periods.
Back – Herniated disks and bowed lumbar risk increase with protracted sitting.
Hips and Bones – Bones in the hips can become weak without movement. Walking, running, and other weight-bearing exercises stimulate bone growth making them thicker and stronger.
Legs – Sitting for long times slows blood flow. Poor blood circulation can lead to fluids pooling in the legs. Varicose veins, blood clots, and swollen ankles can result.
What Can Be Done?
While sitting for long periods of time can damage the body, the good news is that there are steps that can be taken to prevent and improve any impairment caused by sitting. A review of data that followed more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderate exercise counteracts the effects of sitting.
Here are some suggestions from experts on how to incorporate some beneficial movement throughout the day, especially if you have a desk job.
- When sitting for long periods at work, get up every 30 minutes and move for one to three minutes. Moving can include:
- Walk around your office building inside or outside.
- Do stretches, forward bends, swinging arms and legs, rotating hips, etc. when you do get up. There are some yoga poses that are able to be done at work that can counter the effects of sitting.
- Set an alarm to remind you to get up and move.
- Stand to take phone calls.
- Use steps instead of the elevator.
- Consider a standing desk or sitting ball.
- Park your car a distance from the door to the office, grocery store, etc.
- Have walking meetings instead of sitting around a desk or conference table.
- While at home watching TV, get up during commercials and move. Do a few simple exercises that include stretching and strengthening.
While it’s easy to get in the habit of sitting and becoming sedentary, the pattern can be broken with some simple physical activity that will be beneficial for your body.
- Laskowski, Edward, M.D. What are the risks of sitting too much? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005.
- Berkowitz, Bonnie and Clark, Patterson. The health hazards of sitting (January 20, 2014). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/.
- Corliss, Julie. Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death (January 22, 2015). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/much-sitting-linked-heart-disease-diabetes-premature-death-201501227618.
- Smith, Genevieve. Text Neck: How Hunching Can Affect Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.thejoint.com/california/san-diego/carmel-mountain-31003/214347-text-neck-how-hunching-can-affect-wellness