Health Risks of Prolonged Sitting

Image credit – Forbes

You may want to stand up while you read this.

You may have heard of the saying, “sitting is the new smoking”, a popular phrase coined by Dr. James Levine, director of Mayo Clinic at Arizona State University. Research confirms that his statement has merit.

Medical researchers have long berated that prolonged sitting poses many health risks, associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems.

Prolonged sitting sessions change your body’s metabolism, where it will slow down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The electrical activity in the legs shuts down after prolonged sitting, making the body less sensitive to insulin and causes calorie-burning to plummet. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, ‘good’ HDL cholesterol drops 20 percent. Just getting up for five minutes is going to jump-start activities again.

According to the 10,000 Steps Project originating from and cited in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), people who take fewer than 5,000 steps a day have a sedentary lifestyle. Increasing your activity level to anywhere between 7,500 and 10,000 steps would place you into the moderate, or somewhat active, level. Only those individuals who take more than 12,500 steps each day are considered highly active.

Why We Should Sit Less And Move More
Humans are not designed to sit – the body is a perpetual motion machine. From the ways our cells create energy to the blood flowing in all the right places, to the structure of our bones, we’re made to move and bear the weight of our bodies.

When we move, our big leg muscles help circulate blood and lymphatic fluid. Our lungs fill up best when we stand. Our heart, cardiovascular system, digestive, and bowel systems work more effectively when we are upright.

Being sedentary can cause constipation. Get moving on a regular basis to keep your bowels moving. Being active helps keep all your body systems moving.

Research shows that your chances of getting cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and back pain can be reduced with a very simple lifestyle change by reducing your chair time.

Researchers found that up to 90% more pressure is applied to your lower back when you sit as compared to when you stand. My three teenage daughters who have been attending online classes throughout the MCO sometimes complain of having a backache, backside ache, and neck pain. They are seated in front of their computers from 7:30 in the morning till evening with little rest in between classes. That is equivalent to almost 10 hours of chair-time on most days! Fortunately, they are fitness junkies and they spend almost an hour each day doing activities that they like from exercising to dancing and cooking to negate the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Many people with desk-bound jobs often complain of getting a stiff neck, painful shoulders, and even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from prolonged sitting periods using the computer in the wrong sitting and typing posture. Our bodies are not engineered to be sat in a static position all day. People who sit for long hours and don’t have proper sitting and typing posture are more susceptible to these aches and pains. Getting up regularly for short breaks will help you work better and counter the harmful effects of sitting too much.

Create a Sit-Stand Workstation!
By implementing a sit-stand desk into your workstation, this will help combat the symptoms of a strained neck, back pain, and a host of other symptoms. Standing workstations can help you to burn more calories and in turn, result in weight loss.

Having the ability to switch between standing and sitting postures can help reduce the physical stress which your body has to endure. It keeps you active at work and improves your productivity throughout the day. Sit-stand desks are recommended by the London Spine Clinic, as they have been designed in a way which makes working comfortable whether you’re stood up or sat down. It gives you the ability to vary your posture and combat the health risks which are associated with sitting too much.

How To Move More And Sit Less
It may be hard to move around and exercise if you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods. These days many jobs are competitive and require you to work overtime. But you can still move around and walk more if you are creative and determined to be more active in your life.

Remember the 30:5 rule – set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes. For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and walk for five minutes at a brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting. You could walk to the pantry, the washroom, walk to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or calling, walk several flights of stairs, run in place, bop through some jumping jacks or squats or simply mosey about in whatever way you find convenient, tolerable and not overly distracting or amusing to your colleagues.

Image credit – Unsplash

Remember to keep moving even when you’re outside of work hours. It is important to introduce more physical activity into your life. Walk stairs rather than take the elevator. Get off one bus stop earlier on the way to work and back home. And yes, those dreaded house chores like mopping, bathroom scrubbing, dishwashing, and vacuuming count too. There are so many minor changes you can make that are beneficial for metabolic health and can make a big difference in your daily step count.

Backed by Research
Research shows that you can reduce your chances of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and back pain, all with one simple lifestyle change: reduce the time you spend sitting.

According to Mayo Clinic, an analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. However, unlike some other studies, this analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting. Another study found that sitting time contributed little to mortality for people who were most active.

A study from the American Cancer Society finds a link between long periods of leisure time sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes, including 14 of the 22 causes of death measured by the study. This includes 8 of the 10 most common causes of death. The study was published online on June 29, 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Previous studies have linked prolonged sitting time with death from cancer, heart disease, and all other causes. To examine the other causes of death in detail, the new study used data from the American Cancer Society CPS-II Nutrition Cohort, which included 127,554 people who had no major chronic diseases when they joined the group, and who were followed for 21 years. During the study’s follow-up time, 48,784 people died.

Risks of death among those who reported the most leisure time sitting were higher from cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, lung disease, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive diseases, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.

In Conclusion
Sitting may seem harmless and it’s great to sit down to rest and chill out. But sitting for prolonged periods every day can take years off your life. A little physical activity throughout the day can make a life-saving difference. Make the commitment to walk more every day to keep your energy levels up. All you need to do is set your phone alarm, Google Timer, Fitbit, or smartwatch to alert yourself to get up and move every 30 minutes. You now have a perfectly valid health-related excuse to take more breaks.

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Health Freak Mommy
Author: Health Freak Mommy

A health freak mom to 3 teenage girls. Blogger since April 2007.