With the growth of the “gig” economy and so many people working from home, the new health threat facing developed countries today is a sedentary lifestyle.
Sitting for too long is inevitable for most people who work with computers. Unfortunately sitting for long periods of time comes with some very serious health consequences. In fact, those health consequences are so bad that most health authorities are calling sitting “the new smoking”.
It’s no secret that there’s a lot about computer use that can lead to health issues. But can sitting too much cause health problems too? The answer is yes, and in this article you’ll learn 7 reasons why.
Leads To Obesity
In 2012, a research group questioned a sample of just over 3,000 elderly people in Spain about how sedentary their lifestyle was. The group examined correlations between the number of hours a day sitting, as well as how many hours a day they walked.
The research group’s findings were astonishing. Not only did they find that sitting time increases obesity in both women and men, but they found that obesity was independent of walking time. However other studies showed that moderate physical activity longer than 60 minutes a day does, in fact, counter the health effects of sitting for 8 hours.
Many other research projects have found similar results through the years. What is so remarkable is that the impact of sitting on obesity is so severe that it can actually counteract physical activity to the point of cancelling it out.
The reasons for this are fairly common sense. When you’re sitting too long, all of the following effects contribute to your risk of obesity:
- Requires less energy than standing or moving, so you’re burning fewer calories over time than you would be otherwise.
- Encourages behavior that contributes to obesity like snacking or drinking alcohol.
- Not using most of your muscles for an extended period can lead to reduced muscle mass, which leads to reduced metabolism.
Hope is not lost. There are things you can do to fight off obesity even if you have to sit for 8 hours a day.
To stave off gaining weight if you have to sit for extended periods during the day:
- Make sure you get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day for every 4 hours you need to sit.
- Opting for a standing desk for a portion of the day can burn almost twice as many calories as sitting. Those calories can add up significantly over time.
- If you feel like snacking, try drinking water, tea, or low-calorie soup to stave off hunger and avoid consuming extra calories.
Can Cause Premature Degeneration Of The Spine
When examining all of the health issues from sitting too long, the effects on the spine are the most significant.
Sitting for long periods of time affects your back and spine in the following ways:
- Leads to tight hip flexor muscles which can reduce your flexibility over time.
- Slows circulation to your buttock muscles, which can contribute to lower back pain.
- Leaning toward a screen can lead to sore neck muscles and strain on the discs in the spine there.
To reduce strain on your spine from sitting too long:
- Exercise the muscles that don’t get used regularly; specifically abdominals, glutes, and the muscles between your shoulder blades (walking and rowing are excellent for this).
- Stretch the muscles that can get tight and sore; such as pectorals, neck, and your hip. Prevention Magazine offers excellent stretches for this.
- Alternate to a standing desk and other ergonomic office equipment. This can remove stress and pressure on the discs throughout your spine and tightness in your hips.
- Move around at least once an hour for a few minutes to improve circulation.
Increases The Chances Of Cancer
A study from the American Cancer Society in 2018 found a link between sitting too long and risk of death from most major leading causes. One of those was cancer.
The odds of the following types of cancer are all increased from prolonged sitting.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Sitting, and actually any form of sedentary life, is known to cause impaired immunity and inflammation. Most experts agree that impaired immunity can increase one’s chances of getting cancer.
Anything you can do to boost your immunity can counteract the risk of sitting too long. The following are excellent ways to do this.
- Getting plenty of sleep boosts the body’s immune response.
- Exposure to sunlight provides energy to T cells that support immunity.
- Regular massage therapy improves endocrine and cellular immunity health.
- Studies show even just a 30 minute walk causes positive immunity changes.
- Health supplements that boost immunity the most include vitamins C, D, and B, garlic, curcumin, and echinacea.
In addition to all of these things, a healthy diet high in nutrients has the same positive effects on your immunity as taking supplements.
Not only will a strong immunity reduce your risk of cancer, but it’ll keep you protected from viruses and the common cold.
High Likelihood For Diabetes
One significant study published in 2012 consisting of almost 800,000 participants found that prolonged sitting every day doubles a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Dealing with diabetes can severely impact your quality of life, and it’s one of the most serious and likely dangers from sitting to long. It may seem difficult to understand why sitting can cause diabetes until you look at the cause and effect of sitting on your metabolism.
Sitting for many hours a day will eventually reduce your body’s metabolism. A lower metabolism results in your body developing higher insulin resistance. Higher insulin resistance eventually leads to Type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that counteracting the effect on your metabolism isn’t difficult, if you work on it every day.
To improve your metabolism:
- Make sure you’re moving some time during the period of sitting. This means standing every so often, and walking every day.
- Include enough protein in your diet every day.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Workout at least moderately 3 or 4 times a week, including weight lifting.
- Get enough sleep.
- Occasionally eat spicy foods.
Even if you’re forced to sit 8 hours a day for your job, that doesn’t have to guarantee that you’re going to get diabetes. It just means that you have to be very diligent about making sure you are taking care of your metabolism every day.
Increase Odds Of Heart Disease
As though it isn’t enough that sitting too long can lead to so many other physical problems, it can also increase your odds of heart disease. But why?
When you sit for a long period of time, it reduces your blood flow. The following are direct cause-effect relationships between sitting and heart disease.
- Reduces blood flow and allows fatty acids in your blood to build up in blood vessels
- Your body’s ability to produce the lipoprotein lipase enzyme that your body needs to break down fat is reduced by about 90 percent, leaving that fat to circulate in your blood
The methods to counteract these risks is exactly the same as that for other risks above. Increase your daily movement and exercise significantly. Also, try to move frequently throughout the workday, not only during your workouts.
More people than ever before find themselves in jobs where they have no choice but to sit for long periods of time. However, sitting too long doesn’t have to be a death sentence if you’re creative about doing the things you need to do to stay healthy when you aren’t working.
What do you do to fit exercise and other healthy habits into your lifestyle? Share your ideas in the comments section below.