Do you sit in the office, home-office or on a sofa at home for more than six hours every day? If so, a handful of disturbing facts might begin to change this lifestyle. Six hours of sitting increases your risk of developing heart disease by up to 64 per cent. It can shave seven years off of your lifespan. In fact, you are also more prone to developing specific types of cancer. Sitting is slowly killing you from a very real perspective. However, the good news is that even those who are extremely lazy can counteract these effects. Let’s take a look at why this modern habit is associated with a number of debilitating health effects and what happens to your body when you spend a significant amount of time sitting down.
1. Organ Damage
While backaches might be the most noticeable effect associated with prolonged periods of sitting, the real danger is the impact that this situation has upon your organs. Prolonged sedentary periods cause your body to burn less fat and blood flow decreases. This allows fatty acids to clog your arteries (such as those within your heart). High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease are all more likely to be observed. Furthermore, your pancreas may begin to produce an excessive amount of insulin; potentially leading to diabetes. Sitting for extended periods has also been shown to increase the likelihood of developing endometrial, colon and breast cancer.
2. Muscular Degeneration
Maintaining that vaunted six pack will be very difficult for those who spend the better part of their days in a chair. Standing causes our abdominal muscles to remain tight and activated. However, they immediately relax upon sitting down. Not only will this lead to a weakened midsection, but it can also have a negative effect upon your hips and the surrounding muscles. As sitting is equated with prolonged periods of inactivity, the entire hip girdle will become more tense. When this tension is combined with muscular atrophy, stability issues when walking or jumping can arise.
3. Weight Gain
One of the most obvious health effects associated with sitting involves weight gain. Of course, no one is under the illusion that such an activity is actually good for the waistline. It therefore makes perfect sense that those who are classified as obese tend to sit for more than 2.5 hours each day when compared to thin individuals. An example can serve to highlight this problem. While levels of exercise between 1980 and 2000 remained relatively constant, obesity rates doubled. This was due to the fact that the time spent sitting increased by as much as eight per cent.
4. A Decline in Brainpower and Mental Acuity
Although you might very well be crunching those numbers while at your desk, were you aware that sitting down can actually cause your mental ability to decline? Why is this the case? Constant movement will cause the heart to pump more oxygen throughout the body. This blood contains high levels of oxygen and it will be sent to the brain. In turn, the brain releases mood-enhancing chemicals known as neurotransmitters. This is not the case when sitting down. Those who remain sedentary for extended periods of time will actually cause their brain functions to slow.
5. Back and Neck Pain
It can be argued that the most well-known health effect associated with prolonged periods of sitting is pain in the neck and back. Awkward positions such as cradling a phone to your neck or leaning forward while typing will ultimately strain your cervical vertebrae. This inevitably causes sore shoulders, a stiff neck and significant back pain. In fact, the very act of sitting can begin to compress the discs within your spinal column.
The Effects of Sitting Viewed as a Timeline
We should note that it is somewhat difficult to develop an accurate assessment of the negative health effects attributed to prolonged periods of sitting. This is because other factors such as diet and exercise may come into play. So, we will look at an example of a healthy individual at a normal weight who does not drink or smoke. We can then examine the health effects associated with sitting for more than six hours each day from a longitudinal point of view.
Immediately After Sitting Down
As soon as you sit down, the electrical activity within your muscles abates and your metabolism drops to the point where the body burns only a single calorie each minute (one-third of the rate associated with walking). Assuming that you sit for 24 hours, glucose-related insulin uptake drops by as much as 40 per cent; eventually leading to type 2 diabetes.
Two Weeks of Sitting for More than Six Hours Each Day
Within five days of sitting for more than six hours, the levels of plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules) within your blood as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol will begin to rise. Insulin resistance likewise increases. Your muscles are not using fat for fuel and your blood sugar levels remain elevated (increasing the chances of gaining weight). After two weeks, your muscles will begin to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption levels fall. Even simple activities such as climbing stairs become more difficult.
One Year of Sitting for More than Six Hours Each Day
Assuming that this lifestyle continues for a year, other subtle effects will begin to emerge. Weight gain and noticeably high levels of cholesterol will likely be present. Furthermore, it has been shown that females may lose up to one per cent of their total bone mass.
Between 10 and 20 Years of Sitting for More than Six Hours Each Day
The long-term health effects of sitting for more than six hours each day can actually cut your lifespan by up to seven years. Your risk of developing prostate cancer rises by 30 per cent and the chances of succumbing to heart disease skyrocket by as much as 64 per cent.
If all of these consequences appear frightening, you will be happy to learn that a few habits can help to counteract such a lifestyle.
What Advice Should You Keep in Mind?
There are two simple steps which can help to mitigate the effects of sitting for long periods of time:
- Remember to stand once every hour.
- Obtain 30 minutes of physical exercise every day,
While these suggestions are straightforward, I have included some other advice to remain more active while at the workplace:
- Take the stairs as opposed to the lift.
- Walk over and talk to colleagues as opposed to resorting to emails and text messages.
- Take a walk outside during your lunch break.
- Stand up and move around while on the phone.
If you are at home, these activities are useful:
- Practice skipping rope.
- Develop a yoga routine.
- Even dance a bit!
Stretching is also very important. Muscles will remain supple, it increases joint flexibility and it increases blood flow to the extremities. Stretching will also help to alleviate pain and discomfort.
As always, remember to take your vitamins!