The human body was designed to work hard. Hunting, gathering, and farming all require physical exercise, which keeps the human body active. In today’s society, we treasure the modern conveniences that allow us to both work and relax from the comfort of our desk chair or recliner. While these conveniences make life easier, they also ensure that we do not get the movement and exercise our bodies need. This exercise is critical to keeping us functioning at peak performance. Furthermore, spending time at the gym may not be enough to combat the negative effects of spending eight hours a day in uninterrupted sitting time. Here are some adverse effects of sitting too long, and ways you can get out of your chair to improve your health.
A study by the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II) Nutrition Cohort followed 127,554 healthy men and women from 1993 to 2014. This study showed that sitting more than six hours a day during leisure time, as opposed to less than three hours per day, resulted in a higher risk of death. Those who spent more time sitting were more likely to die from cardiac disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide. To prolong your life, don’t go straight from the desk chair at work to your couch at home. Make time for an after-dinner walk, watch your favorite television programs from your treadmill instead of your recliner, or grab a friend for a game of racquetball after work.
It’s not surprising that sitting too much causes obesity; 25 years ago, research at Harvard linked watching television to obesity. Cut time spent watching TV to two hours a day or less. While you can control time spent sitting in front of your television, it can be harder to control the time that must be spent sitting at work. To keep yourself from sitting in one place too long, set a timer for 30 minutes and get up to walk for five minutes. Drinking plenty of water while working at your desk will keep you hydrated, and ensure you get up to take frequent restroom breaks.
Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, it is wise to eliminate as many risk factors for heart disease as possible. Death from cardiac-related disease includes coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack, and congenital heart disease. Studies have shown that excessive sitting time increases the risk of heart disease by 14.7%. Tips for keeping you on your toes at work include investing in an adjustable-height desk. Since standing for long periods of time may introduce other health risks, a variety of standing, sitting, and walking throughout the day might be the best way to keep your heart healthy.
The Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study showed that decreasing sitting time actually decreases bad cholesterol levels and increases good cholesterol levels. For every two hours of decreased sitting time, triglycerides were lowered by 11%, total/HDL cholesterol ratios were lowered by 6%, and HDL cholesterol was increased by 0.06 mmol/L. To keep yourself moving, purchase a fitness tracker or fitness app to keep track of your daily steps. Set a goal and make it a priority to reach that number of steps each day. Use the buddy system to keep yourself accountable and give and receive daily encouragement from a friend.
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have shown that sitting for extended periods of time affects your brain as well as other parts of your body. This study showed that a sedentary lifestyle actually leads to thinning of the medial temporal lobe of the brain. While a daily workout at the gym will not negate the effects of sitting for long periods the rest of the day, breaking up your sitting time may help. Encourage your coworkers to engage in “moving meetings” where you are actively walking instead of sitting around a conference table. Instead of sending an email to your co-worker two cubicles over, get up and deliver your message in person.
Along with heart disease, people who spend the majority of their day sitting can be twice as likely to develop diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has started a “National Get Fit Don’t Sit Day.” This initiative increases awareness that breaking up long periods of sitting with periods of activity is a potent way to prevent developing type 2 diabetes. Look for simple ways to interrupt sitting time and get out of your chair every 30 minutes. Instead of sitting while talking on the phone, pace around your office. Take advantage of the freedom technology gives you and get out for a brisk walk around the block while chatting on your cell phone.
Sitting for long periods of time increases your chances of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). When you are not moving enough, blood flow in your legs can become sluggish. When this happens, clots can form, break off, and travel to other parts of the body. Clots that travel to the lungs may cause a blockage called pulmonary embolism that can cause death. People who spend long hours on airplanes or in cars are especially at risk of developing DVT. If you are going to be traveling by car, airplane, or train for more than four hours, be sure to take breaks to walk and stretch your legs. You can stretch your legs in your airplane seat by pulling one up toward your chest at a time and allowing your muscles to stretch.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is another negative consequence of too much sitting. Find ways to increase the amount of time you spend walking. Instead of fast forwarding through commercials, let them run while you use the time for quick household chores. Flip the laundry, dust a bookshelf, water your plants, or give the kitchen a quick sweep. At work, take the stairs rather than the elevator to get from one floor to another. Park farther from the door at the grocery store or mall and add a few more steps to your day.
You may not realize it, but you may be sitting wrong as well as sitting too much. Decrease lower back pain by making sure to sit with correct posture. Use a chair that supports your lower back. Sit up straight, rather than leaning forward. The strain of leaning forward puts extra stress on your spine. Make sure you don’t sit in one position for too long and remember to get up to stretch your legs every 30 minutes or so.
A study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sit more than six hours each day are 10% more likely to develop cancer than women who sit less than three hours each day. They are also more likely to develop multiple myeloma, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. While this study did not indicate an increased likelihood of cancer in men, sitting for extended periods of uninterrupted time each day does affect both sexes. One way to decrease sitting time and take care of your body is to skip the drive-through after work each night and cook your own healthy meals.
Enlarged, swollen veins visible under the skin can be another painful effect of sitting too long. Either sitting or standing too long can cause blood to pool in the legs. Excess blood pooling in the veins increases pressure on the veins, which can then stretch. As the veins stretch, their walls can become weakened, and the valves can become damaged. You can prevent painful and unsightly varicose veins by putting your feet up while sitting whenever possible. Likewise, remember to change position throughout the day when sitting. Don’t cross your legs while seated, as this increases the pressure on your veins.
Mental Health Issues
Too much sitting and not enough movement can cause depression, anxiety, and malaise. Get out of your chair and get moving to get oxygen flowing to your muscles and your brain. Go for a brisk walk to release powerful feel-good endorphins. Find a new hobby that keeps you active and stimulates your mind and body. If you love animals, a dog might be the perfect addition to your life to get you outside in the fresh air.