[Updated on 1 June 2020] Today, more and more people are concerned about their health. We go for regular checkups, we work out more frequently, and we watch what we eat. What you might not know is that sitting down for long hours at your office desk poses the same risk as smoking. As outrageous as it may seem, sitting down has been branded as the new smoking, and long-distance drivers and office workers are most at risk.
A typical American is sedentary 21 hours a day. Inclusive of physical activity and exercise, most people in the US spend about 3 hours of the day simply standing. The sitting disease, which is a condition of increased sedentary behavior, has been associated with adverse health effects. This phenomenon can be defined by two things: the position you are generally in, and the amount of energy expenditure that your body is experiencing.
In short, if you stand and move around during the day, you have a low risk of early death. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, being overweight, and experiencing anxiety and depression.
Sitting down, by choice is not the most desired activity for the human spine. This is because the body is trying to balance itself on its pelvis as the upper body performs its functions, often in a flexed position.
Why is excessive sitting harmful to your body?
Humans have been programmed to stand upright. Your heart and cardiovascular system are most responsive in this position. That is why it is common for bedridden people to experience bowel function problems. When you are constantly active, your overall endurance and energy levels improve, maintaining your bone strength.
Weak legs and Glutes
You will lose them if you don’t use them! When you sit all day, you are relying less on your powerful lower body muscles to hold you up straight. Over a long period, it leads to atrophy, which is the weakening of the muscles. When you lack strong, healthy legs and glute muscles, your body is at risk of injury.
Human legs contain more muscle than any other region in the body. When you are inactive for long periods, they are significantly affected. It won’t if you are sitting for multiple hours, if it’s regular, you will begin to notice your hamstrings, calves, and quads are changing. They will be less toned and perky as your muscles reduce in size and are less defined.
The first thing you might notice is the effects of your upper hips and leg since they are common fat deposit areas. These effects appear because the fat on these areas tends to be less metabolically active than fat in other areas of the body.
Movement helps your body digest sugars and fats we eat. If you spend a lot of time sitting down, your digestion process is not efficient, the result is, you retain the fats and sugars you eat in your body. It doesn’t matter how much you exercise; if you spend a lot of time sitting down, you are still risking health related problems such as metabolic syndrome. According to studies, humans need about 60 to 70 minutes of moderate intensity activity to fight the damages caused by excessive sitting.
According to a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), about 17% of the youth and 35% of adults in the US are obese. Obesity has been linked to some health-related issues including cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
In the past, obesity has been thought to have been caused by lack of exercise and diet. However, researchers now attest that the time you spend sitting down could be another factor, and living a sedentary lifestyle could be worse than obesity.
According to a study done in the UK, both the amount spent sitting down and the amount you spend exercising impacts on obesity. Individuals who did little exercise had an 8% rate of obesity. While those who regularly did mild to vigorous workouts, who had a 5% rate of obesity.
After ten years, the active group had a 6.9% rate of obesity while the sedentary group had an 11.9% rate. If you add sitting to the equation, the active individuals who sat the least had a 74% lower risk of obesity after five years.
Poor posture and Tight Hips
Just like your legs and glute muscles, your back and hips will suffer from excessive sitting. Prolonged sitting causes your hip reflectors to shorten, and your seated position can also hurt your back. This is common if you have bad posture or you don’t use an ergonomic chair. Also, poor posture when seated compresses the discs in your spine. And also often leads to premature degeneration, which results in chronic pain.
Spending too much time sited on your office desk can leave your spine stiff, sore and in pain. Sitting too much exerts stress on your muscle and discs of your neck and back. This position will result in the tightening of your hip flexors such as the iliopsoas muscle and pressure and restricted blood flow to your buttocks (the gluteus maximus) — this muscle is very important to support your spine.
The longer you are seated, the more likely your posture will slide. Slouching can negatively affect your spine, forcing the spinal ligaments to stretch beyond healthy limits. It’s also important to note that poor posture can strain your spinal discs.
Also, sitting for a long time while working on your computer or writing results in a forward head position and rounded shoulder posture. These often lead to isolated episodes of neck or back pain and soreness.
Anxiety and Depression
While they are less understood than physical effects, a sedentary lifestyle has mental effects. According to studies, the risks of anxiety and depression are higher in people who sit the most. This happens since the mental health benefits of fitness are lacking when individuals spend most of their days sitting rather than being active. If this is the case, the risks can be reduced with regular exercise.
Individuals who spend too much time seated are likely to feel anxious according to a new review. The Australian study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity specified that employees who sit for long periods have a greater risk for psychological distress. It was discovered that employees who sat for more than six hours in a day had higher levels of depression. Also they have higher anxiety compared to those who sat down for three hours.
Excessive sitting is not only detrimental to your physical health; it does nothing good for your mental health either. Your brain needs oxygenation, strong blood flow, and optimal glucose metabolism to work properly. Just like the rest of your body.
Risk of cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, individuals and specifically women who spend more than 6 hours of their day sitting down have a 10% higher risk of getting cancer than those who spend about 3 hours of their day sitting down. The study specified that there is a strong link between sitting for long periods during leisure time. And a high risk of death from all causes, which includes 14 out of the 22 cause of death in this study.
Individuals are also likely to develop certain types of cancer including invasive breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and multiple myeloma. Emerging studies have pointed out that excessive sitting could also result in uterine, lung, and colon cancers.
Previous studies have also linked excessive sitting with death from cancer, and all other causes. To examine all the causes of death, the new study used data from the American Cancer Society that included more than 120,000 individuals with major chronic diseases, followed for 21 years. During this particular study, about 48,000 individuals died.
The risks of death among those who were reported the most leisure time sitting were higher from cancer, stroke, coronary disease, lung disease, liver disease, digestive disease, Alzheimer’s disease, musculoskeletal disorders, nervous disorders, and other digestive diseases.
Prolonged sitting can have negative effects on your heart potentially leading to cardiovascular disease. A study found out that men who spend 23 hours a week watching television have a greater chance of dying from cardiovascular disease than their counterparts who watched television for 10 hours. According to experts, individuals who spend most of their time sited have a 147% higher risk of suffering from a stroke or heart disease.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) heart disease that included congenital heart disease, heart attack, and congestive heart failure are the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S. Until recently, prevention of such included lowering cholesterol, not smoking, reducing high blood pressure, doing exercise (150 minutes in a week) and keeping your weight under control. However, recently, many studies are confirming that there is another factor: the time someone spends sitting down.
A study on the lifestyles of 84,000 men aged between 45 to 70 with the incidence of heart failure found that while vigorous exercise reduced the risk of heart failure, low to moderate exercise had less of an impact on the heart failure rates among men who spent long periods seated.
Researchers discovered that men who spent 5 hours of their day seated were 34% more likely to develop heart failure than men who sat down for two hours a day outside of work. Furthermore, the increased link to sitting was not eliminated by low to medium levels of physical activity. The research concluded that too much sitting is detrimental to cardiovascular health, independent of regular activity.
Individuals who spend a lot of time sited have a 112% increased risk of diabetes. New studies have revealed that excessive sitting leads to diabetes, and death, even in people who exercise regularly. While most people think that all you need to do is work out every day. Those with jobs that require sitting all day are at risk. According to a study that looked at the effects of 5 days bed rest, the researcher found that the respondents had increased insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes.
Sitting down for extended periods can lead to blood pooling in your legs. This results in varicose veins. While it’s not directly harmful, swollen visible veins are unsightly. They often lead to more serious conditions such as blood clots.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
This is a type of blood clot that is more common in the legs. When parts of the blood clot break off, they could flow into other parts of the body such as your lungs, causing pulmonary embolism. This is a major health complication that can lead to death. Staying seated for too long, even while on transit can cause Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT.
Stiff Shoulders and Neck
Just like your butt, legs, and lower back, your neck and shoulders will suffer from prolonged sitting. This is common if you are regularly hunched over while working on your computer. Working over your desk for a long time is a common cause of neck and back pain.
When you strain to see your computer monitor that is too far away, too high or low, it compromises on good posture. A human head weighs about 12 pounds when your neck is bent to 45 degrees; it exerts about 50 pounds of force on your neck. What’s worse is it strains your muscles and joints in your shoulders and neck; this pressure affects your breathing and mood.
How to sit less at work
By now you understand that sitting down for a prolonged period is harmful even if you hit the gym daily. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 60% of people spend six or more hours sitting in a single day. More than 20% spend four or more hours watching Television in a day.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, if Americans cut their sitting time I half, their life expectancy would increase with roughly two years. With this in mind, how could you sit less in a day when you are expected to work all day seated at your office desk? Well, fortunately for you, we have listed a few ways to get you off your office chair more often.
Invest in a step counter
Technology has advanced greatly over the last decade, meaning you can’t afford to be ignorant. Tech companies like Fitbit and Jawbone have introduced fitness bands equipped with step counters. These gadgets can encourage you to move more showing how many steps you take in a day. If you score less than 10,000 steps in a day, you should get up and walk down the stairs. It’s better than spend time on the internet when you need a break.
Set an alarm
Most times, we sit down unconsciously. You could set up your alarm to remind you to get up once every hour. You can do things like stretch or grab a drink or otherwise engage your muscles.
Drinking water is healthy for many reasons, but one obvious result is you will have to hit the bathroom frequently. When that time comes, try visiting one on the other side of your office building or a different floor to increase your time in the movement. You could also refill your water bottle from a faraway fountain as well.
In case you have a one on one meeting scheduled. You could ask your colleague to talk with you as you grab a coffee. You could also try nearby walking trails or sidewalks. A bonus is, it might be easy having difficult conversations this way, then having face to face meeting staring at each other.
Try a standing desk
Getting a desk that adjusts your screen and keyboard to your standing height is a small price to pay compared to the health complications caused by too much sitting down. You could also set a goal to move your chair twice a day. Also try standing for a few minutes as you send emails or edit a document.
Visit your colleagues
In case you need a quick answer to a question, you could walk to someone’s office instead of calling. Having face to face conversations helps reduce the risk of misinterpretation. If you are working with people in different buildings, offer to visit them, rather than make a call.
Use the office gym
Some companies have office gyms. Doing a moderate 25-minute walk on the treadmill won’t work you enough to require a shower. But it will help you stretch your body and revitalize your strength. The impact of movement, even if its leisure movement can be profound. You will burn more calories leading to increased energy and weight loss. Physical activity helps maintain your muscle tone, your mental well being and the ability to move.