WHY SITTING IS SO BAD FOR YOU & 8 THINGS YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
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This article was updated on 1st June
Sitting for long periods of time is a common theme in today's world where much work is done at a desk in an office environment - but did you know that there are many adverse side effects associated with sitting?
Below are some of the health problems associated with sitting for long periods of time. They also apply to those at home who enjoy sitting for on end watching television, reading novels or any other similar sedentary activity.
1. Back Pain and Mobility Problems
Sitting in the same position every day for hours on end is notorious for messing up posture, causing lactic acid build-up in the muscles and promoting pain and stiffness in both the muscles and joints along the spine.
Posture is absolutely essential to build the right muscles that offer optimal back support and may help to avoid back pain, depending on the cause. If our posture is out, our back or hip will also likely be, resulting in undesirable symptoms. Sitting for long has been associated with worsening our posture over time.
According to an article published on Harvard Health, sitting for prolonged periods throughout the day also affects the way we walk, our overall balance and may make walking more difficult or even more painful. It went on to state that those who sit more than they are active are also at risk for falling over and injuring themselves. Furthermore, tighter muscles (particularly the hamstrings and hip flexor muscles) appeared to contribute to lower back pain, knee stiffness and more.
Data collected on office workers reveals that long term prolonged sitters tend to suffer from musculoskeletal disorder symptoms in the shoulders, lower back, thighs and knees.
Naturally, all of this is likely to result in impaired mobility and a substantial decrease in the overall quality of life. To maintain flexibility and mobility, one needs to do consistent exercise and keep moving.
2. Weakens All Muscles in the Long Run
Sitting relaxes nearly all the muscles in the body, including the heart and the muscles supporting the spine (why bad posture is a common issue). Since the heart pumps blood around the body, having it too relaxed may cause less oxygen to reach the brain and detract from your ability to think clearly. An investigation carried out on office workers who did long hours working at computers showed that prolonged sitting reduced cognitive function and bodily discomfort.
Furthermore, our cardiovascular health will suffer if the heart is relaxed on a continuous basis as our blood vessels and organs all need oxygen and nutrients to thrive. In this way, prolonged sitting appears to affect our circulation and therefore may have a negative impact on the way we eliminate toxins, digest food and sleep.
3. Linked to An Increased Risk of Mortality & Disease
The Mayo Clinic makes it clear that sitting for long periods of time on a frequent basis is related to many negative health effects, including a reduced risk of all-cause mortality - a.k.a. sitting is likely to shorten our lifespans and improve our chances of being diagnosed with a disease.
The link between sitting and disease is not a new one however. According to an NHS article, it was observed in the 1950s already that bus drivers were twice as likely to get a heart attack than their standing conductor colleagues.
Some more recent studies have even shown that sitting for long periods may be associated with an increased risk of lung and endometrial cancers, yet not with breast or several other types tested for.
Other diseases and symptoms associated with sitting daily for hours on end include:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Digestive Issues
- Chronic Fatigue
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Abnormal Cholesterol Levels
- Musculoskeletal Symptoms
- Decreased Job Satisfaction
Who is Most At Risk for Sitting Too Long?
Research shows that the elderly are the most at risk for sitting for too long, coming close to 10hours of sitting a day in some cases! While this may be the worst case scenario, everyone is actually at risk of sitting for too long.
The NHS recommends that everyone limits their time on screens and other electronic devices such as televisions to ensure they keep more active. For young children, parents are urged to encourage them to sit, crawl, walk and be more active as well as to set the example for just how active their kids should be.
8 Tips for Sitters: How to Help Lessen the Side Effects of Sitting
According to the observations noted above, it would appear that humans were not built to sit still for long periods of time but rather were made to move!
For those of you who sit for extended periods of time, here are 8 tips that can help lessen the side effects of prolonged sitting.
1. Take Breaks Every 30 minutes
All the experts recommend that taking breaks, especially active work breaks, are effective ways of minimizing the damage done from sitting for too long on at frequent basis. There is not enough research currently to guarantee how much sitting is acceptable, however many healthcare professionals reckon advocate taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes as a general rule to stretch or walk around. This is commonly referred to as a microbreak.
Due to Covid 19, many people have been working from home since March 2020. While in some parts of the world people are back in the office, more people are expected to continue work from home even after the Covid 19 Pandemic is declared over as corporations around the world have seen the benefits of it. The drawback of this however is that evidence has found that people might take fewer microbreaks than if they are in the office.
Whether in the office or at home, find ways to remember to take those microbreaks every 30 minutes. It helps increase productivity therefore it's important to give yourself some mental rest every few hours before resuming back to work with renewed energy. This could be through setting alarms or finding products such as the Seat Guard - Microbreaks - a technical intelligent device that has won The Best Invention Award by The International Invention Innovation Competition in Canada, iCAN - Toronto, Canada. This user-friendly device does not require any installations or programming. It is pre-installed to vibrate every 30 minutes to prevent prolonged sitting by reminding the user to take a break and move around for a minimum of 2 minutes.
2. Stretch Before, After and During Sitting
Stretching and rotating your joints can help immensely to keep your blood flow moving, helping to detract from many of the problems associated with prolonged sitting. Before you sit down at your chair, try to stretch, rotate or warm up the areas of the body that will be affected, such as the hips, thighs, ankles, elbows, shoulders, neck and wrists.
At the desk, one can stretch their legs under the working surface as well as flex the ankles to keep blood flow moving. Rotating the knee and hip joints while standing up during your breaks are advisable, particularly during long office hours. If you do work in an office or similar environment, doing gentle leg stretches where your legs are suspended above your body may be useful before and after work.
3. Breathe To Your Advantage
Our heartbeat is regulated by our breathing and can therefore also be changed when we change our breathing pattern. By taking in deep breaths through our nostrils, holding them for the same length of time and then releasing them through pursed lips at the same slow pace, the heart beat will normalize. This technique also helps to regulate stress and anxiety.
Also remember to breathe while in front of a screen and to keep your mouth open if you have a stuffy nose. Screen work can make one forget and lose out on oxygen at the same time!
4. Get an Ergonomic Desk Chair
If you have to sit for long hours, then get a chair that is ergonomic. Ergonomic furniture supports the natural shape of our backs, promoting excellent posture and helping ward off back pain and other issues. If you have a desk chair that supports good posture, pain may be reduced but without movement, your muscles will still stiffen up after a while of sitting.
5. Eat a Nutritionally Enriched, Balanced Diet
Eating a healthy diet helps not only to promote less bodily pain, but also to give one more energy and motivation to move around. A diet loaded with more antioxidants can help to protect our cells from any free radical damage which may make prolonged sitting more feasible - especially if sitting in front of a computer screen. Natural superfoods like blueberries, chia seeds, pomegranates, green tea, cacao and moringa leaf are just a few examples rich in antioxidants.
Nutritionists are also pointing to how a diet high in fiber helps to keep the body alkalized, which in turn may helps to lower joint and muscle pain, particularly if the pain is caused by lactic acid buildup (very commonly the case with a sedentary lifestyle). Fiber also promotes good gut health which is linked to having a better immune system and more energy. Foods like celery, kale, cabbage and many varieties of delicious fruits are all great for improving gut health.
6. Get a Massage on a Regular Basis
If you're suffering from muscle pain and stiffness, go and get yourself a back massage. Having somebody loosen up your back will help you to think and feel so much better as well as encourage optimal blood flow to all your extremities.
A chiropractor can also help to re-align your spine, which may lower the severity of some of the side effects linked to prolonged sitting. It will also remind you what a good posture feels like again!
7. Exercise for 30 minutes Every Day
Exercise has been shown to greatly reduce the risks that come with sitting for long hours. However, research also shows that moderate exercise every day is better for you than intensive exercise or exercise spurts on a semi-regular basis. For example, exercising for 30minutes every day is much healthier for you than exercising for 3hours on one day of the week.
The exercise does not have to be strenuous but should get your blood moving through your body. Try going for a walk or a jog during your work breaks or installing an exercise bike at your work station. A simple exercise mat can also be taken to work for quick stretches and workouts that can have wonderful effects on your overall well-being!
8. Start a Herb Garden At the Office or in Your Backyard
Sometimes the motivation to move and exercise is just not there, especially when one feels tired and sore. Some of us may appreciate creating some sense of motivation, such as by setting up a herb garden at home or work. This will encourage you to get outside and be active more often, as well as offer other rewarding benefits such as fresh produce!
-  https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/the-dangers-of-sitting
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29026727
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122014/
-  https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005
-  https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/why-sitting-too-much-is-bad-for-us/
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24935969/
-  https://ucalgary.ca/news/working-home-through-covid-19-take-micro-breaks-and-perform-better-ucalgary-expert-says?fbclid=IwAR31GuaoIrG0V59Bitr0bSjc9ToHl_B5ZU4A0_l0uTL0wUMYU2dx28pK_O0
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2800038/
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