With the ever increasing rise of digital technology, as well as administrative and desk jobs having become a primary job type, sitting has become the most common posture in the workplace and the one we tend to adapt for most of our day (studies show most desk workers spend an average of 10 hours per day sitting).
What is so bad about this for our health?
It turns out, a lot.
The human body and skeleton isn’t designed to be sitting, immobile, inactive, and hunched over all day. Its actually designed to stand, move, run, walk, bend, sprint, stretch, essentially to be in action the majority of the time.
The way we have developed in terms of daily use of our bodies (or, not) is in stark contrast to both our optimal health and the ways our bodies are meant to function and move.
Many of us have health issues that we attribute to bad genes, poor diet, or possibly even the environment. But now that we have a better understanding of the physiological effects of excessive sitting, it’s probably safe to say that our daily behaviors can also play a large role in our health problems.
Research now shows that the frequency with which we spend sitting has detrimental effects on our health- some studies even say, equal to or potentially worse than from smoking.
Want to know specifics? How exactly does sitting all day smash your health?
- Weight gain. Too much sitting has been shown to decrease lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity, which then hinders the bodies ability to burn fat. This will lead to increased fat stores, even with the consuming of a healthy diet.
- Another obvious yet often ignored consequence of sitting is poor circulation. Prolonged sitting time can slow down your circulation and cause blood to pool in the legs and feet, which can lead to varicose veins, swollen ankles, or even dangerous blood clots like deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- When our body burns less fat and blood circulation is poor, there’s an increased chance of fatty acids blocking the arteries in the heart. This links inactive sitting to elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study has shown that men who spend more than 10 hours a week riding in a car or over 23 hours a week watching television had 82% and 64% greater risk of suffering from heart disease compared to those who spent significantly less time on both activities.
- Sitting all day loosens and weakens the muscles in the body, particularly those in the midsection and lower body. And without strong legs and glutes, our lower body becomes unable to hold us up when sitting down or keep us stable when walking and jumping, putting us at risk of injury. As they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
5. According to a 2017 study that examined the link between diabetes and total sitting time, there is a higher risk of diabetes in physically inactive people, with prolonged sitting being a major contributing factor. This is because decreased muscle mass and strength can result in lowered insulin sensitivity, which means that the cells respond slower to insulin (the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels). The lower the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the higher the incidence of diabetes.
6. Aside from making our muscles more vulnerable to degenerating, prolonged sitting and slouching causes a variety of problems for your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. Your neck and shoulders curve and stiffen, your spine loses its flexibility as it absorbs pressure, and your pelvis rotates the wrong way, especially if you don’t use an ergonomic chair or already have bad posture to begin with.
7. The longer you sit and maintain bad posture, the more likely you are to experience chronic pain in areas such as your neck, shoulders, back, hips, and legs. Back pain is a prevalent health problem in the U.S. and is considered one of the most common job-related disabilities. In fact, according to a National Health Statistics Report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 50% of American adults (125 million) have some type of musculoskeletal pain disorder—pain in the lower back, sciatica, neck, joints, as well as other related conditions—while 20.3% reported having lower back pain.
8. Here is a crazy one. Sitting all day can give you brain damage. Yup, you read that right. With all the mental work you’re doing at the office, you’d think your brain would be in tip-top condition. But if you’re sitting the whole time, the brain will be unable to get enough blood and oxygen, which it needs to function optimally. As a result, your brain function still slows down, and you don’t get to optimize your brain power. And when it doesn’t get enough glucose energy, brain cells may get damaged.
9. Sitting all day can give you anxiety and depression. It’s easy to figure out why: those who sit all day don’t get to enjoy the health and mood-boosting benefits that come with exercise and staying fit. At the same time, being in front of the computer or TV all day limits sun exposure and social interaction, which leads to vitamin D deficiency and strong feelings of loneliness.
10. Perhaps the scariest side effect of prolonged sitting is the risk of getting lung, colon, breast, uterine, and endometrial cancers. The exact correlation is not clear, but it could be due to the fact that sedentary behavior can boost the production of insulin in the body, which encourages cell growth. Alternatively, regular physical activity tends to have an antioxidant effect in the body due to its ability to reduce oxidative stress. Possible cancer risks can also be linked to weight gain, changes in hormone levels, metabolic dysfunction, and inflammation—all of which can be exacerbated by sedentary behavior.
Research shows that sweating it out regularly in the gym is not enough to offset the side effects of sitting at a desk for hours, so the best way is to really maintain a constant stream of activity throughout the day. You can do this by taking regular breaks or by using desk exercise equipment that can keep you moving while at work.
Further possible solutions: request a standing desk at work. Find excuses to move as much as possible throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, do exercises at your desk (worry about what others think about this- be damned ;-)), take a walk during your lunch break, do not sit down during your commute to and from work, make sure to exercise every day. The list going on of ways we can help prevent these health detriments caused by sitting so much throughout the day.
Most of this information was found here, at 10 Side Effects of Sitting All Day.
Another thought-provoking article from WebMD: 13 Reasons why Sitting Too Much is Bad for Your Health.