Indeed, smoking and sitting are simply two different sides of the same coin when it comes to harming health. Yet, while it’s undeniable that smoking is linked to most chronic diseases, less people know the perils of chronically sitting for too long.
Newer research connects sitting all day to numerous health problems. Learn why sitting is bad for you and how to combat this problem even if you work a typical 9-5 job.
Is Sitting Bad for You?
While periodic sitting poses little to no harm, long sitting inevitably does. Because humans were designed to stand upright and move often, it makes sense that sitting too long too often is t ideal for optimal health.
Take a look at the health issues associated with chronically sitting all day and a sedentary lifestyle.
Muscles, Joints, and Bones
Sitting for long amounts of time can atrophy muscles, stiffen joints and weaken bones. Most affected are the back, neck, hips, legs, and shoulders to some extent.
Even worse than sitting too long is sitting with poor posture, which is beyond common for most people when considering the work office culture promotes poor sitting posture. This is especially problematic because it can eventually lead to scoliosis of the spine, disc compression, and painful, premature degeneration of the back.
Of course, sitting hunched over a computer screen for six or more hours a day can lead to stiffness and pain, especially in the neck, and the shoulders as well.
Over time, long sitting time causes the hip flexor muscles to shorten, which then causes problems with hip joints, balance, and coordination.
Finally, too much sitting greatly atrophies glute and leg muscles. Not only are these muscle groups vital for walking and stabilizing, but because they are the largest muscle groups, atrophy of them also means less calorie burn at rest. This can impact weight, usually negatively.
Deep Vein Thrombosis and Varicose Veins
Also known as DVT, deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that precipitates in the veins of the leg. This is a serious problem because the clot can cut off blood flow to other areas of the body such as the lungs or heart or brain if the clot breaks off from the leg and travels. Of course, the number one risk factor for this is sitting too often.
In addition, sitting causes blood to pool in the legs, which can lead to varicose veins or smaller versions of varicose veins known as spider veins. They are not normally dangerous, but they can be quite painful and hinder motivation to move or exercise, which then has major health implications.
Any sort of physical activity from working out to completing household chores positively impacts weight by burning calories and balancing energy intake. But what's more, moving improves insulin sensitivity, helps the body better digest fats and carbohydrates, and teaches the body to burn fat stores as fuel.
Interestingly, research shows that moving more often throughout the day is actually more health-promoting than exercising for one hour a day but moving little otherwise. This is likely because sitting halts circulation, which shuts off fat-burning enzymes. Thus, it is important to regularly move to preserve muscle mass and proper circulation.
Anxiety and Depression
Sitting not only poses physical health risks but mental and emotional ones as well. Although the mechanism is not well understood, study after study shows people who regularly exercise and move more often, in general, demonstrate improved mental health.
Depressive and anxious feelings are greatly diminished in those who move more. Many health professionals prescribe exercise before medication as a first-line treatment.
Most concerning is the association between sitting and the risk of chronic disease. It seems unlikely that something everyone does truly increases chronic disease risk.
But alas, sitting is associated with:
• Metabolic syndrome
• Cardiovascular disease
• Type 2 diabetes
• Some types of cancer, including lung, uterine, and colon cancers
• Acute illnesses like heart attack and stroke
The mechanism of action is likely similar to the correlation between sitting and weight. All chronic and acute disease has been associated with reduced muscle mass and unhealthily high weights.
How to Move More
Hopefully, it is obvious how detrimental the effects of sitting are to health. With that being said, there are many simple ways to move more throughout the day!
Achieve the Recommended Amount of Weekly Exercise
• Minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity/week
• 2 strength sessions/week
Include Natural Activity
• Walk or cycle to work
• Use the stairs instead of elevators and escalators
• Get off the bus one or two stops early and walk the remainder
• Park further away in lots
• Walk around the home while brushing teeth or talking on the phone
• Complete a household chore every day
• Cook homemade meals
Incorporate Activity Into the Work Day
• Take the stairs instead of the elevator
• Walk to colleagues' offices rather than emailing
• Take a 10 to 30-minute walk during lunch break
• Organize walk meetings with colleagues
• Take a stretch or walk break once every one to two hours
• Use a standing desk for part of the day
• Do jumping jacks once every hour
• Implement corporate wellness challenges
Reduce Sedentary Behavior
• Find ways to walk stairs more often in the home
• Limit screen time
• Move while watching TV (bodyweight exercises, ironing, standing, and folding laundry)
• Take walks while listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks
• Use a smaller water bottle, so you fill it up more often
• Set alarms on watches or phones as a reminder to move
• Make multiple pit stops on long car rides
• Shop in person rather than online
• Get a standing desk for the home
While sitting for short periods of time is not harmful, long sitting surely is. Our bodies are biologically created to move often, and it is evident that today's culture that inspires immobility and hovering over computers day in and day out is derailing health.
However, making a conscious effort to move a little more during the day can largely combat these health perils. Make a point to stand more often, pencil in stretch or walk breaks throughout the day, and take the stairs over elevators to move your body into health and longevity.
The Dangers of Sitting: Why Sitting Is the New Smoking. Better Health Channel. Reviewed August 22, 2018. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/the-dangers-of-sitting.