Dangers of Sitting: What Happens to Your Body When You Sit All Day!
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.”
Okay, so sitting isn’t exactly like smoking (smoking is much worse).
However, like smoking, prolonged sitting is a major health risk for Americans and the catchphrase serves to bring warranted attention to the problem.
According to the results of a representative survey of the U.S. population published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, roughly 1 in 4 Americans sit more than 8 hours a day. Additionally, 4 in 10 are physically inactive, and 1 in 10 are both (sedentary for more than 8 hours and physically inactive).
America has a sitting problem.
Sitting less than 4 hours a day doesn’t seem to affect health, but when we sit longer, studies show an alarming increase in risk of serious health issues as well as an increased rate of mortality in those that sit the most.
Thankfully, sitting isn’t an addiction, but a lifestyle habit. That means it’s easier to address. We can absolutely add more activity and standing into our days to counter the dangers of sitting.
Let’s take a brief look at what prolonged sitting does to the body.
The Dangers of Sitting
Here’s what happens to your body when you sit all day.
Up to 90% more pressure is applied to your lower back when you sit versus when you stand. (This may be why back pain is one of American’s most common health problems.)
Hours of sitting can tighten the hip flexor and hamstring muscles and stiffen your joints, too. Your gait and balance can be affected by the tighter muscles, and they can add to lower back pain and knee stiffness.
Your lung capacity is reduced when you’re in a seated position, which means you breathe in less oxygen when you sit than when you stand.
Of course, you engage fewer muscles and use less energy when you sit compared to when you stand or move.
Internally, your metabolism slows down by 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. Your body has a harder time breaking down fats. Unhealthy cholesterol levels increase. Blood sugar increases. Blood flow decreases.
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with increased risk of excess weight, unhealthy blood pressure levels, unhealthy changes in blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and excess body fat around the waist.
One very large study involving 800,000 people found that those who sat 7 to 10 hours a day were 147 percent more likely to have a serious cardiovascular event than people who rarely sat down.
Research also indicates that too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting may increase the risk of death, particularly from heart health issues and unhealthy cellular function.
These are sobering facts, and yet knowing them is key to preventing serious health problems.
The Good News
For anyone who sits a lot due to work or other reasons, there’s good news. You might be relieved to learn that there’s a lot you can do to lessen the ill effects or dangers of sitting.
Here are recommendations from medical experts:
Recent research shows that just 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise helps mitigate the higher risk of mortality that comes with 10 hours or more of daily sitting. Of course, exercise can provide a host of additional benefits, including better sleep, mood, blood sugar, and brain and heart health.
If you’re just starting to get active, try a low-impact sport like simply walking or taking an easy bike ride.
Additionally, a new study shows that endurance training helps counter the blood flow restriction that can come with prolonged sitting.
Also, be sure to include strength training. It helps support your posture as developing strong core muscles will help your posture when seated.
Stand More, Walk More
If exercise is hard to fit in, researchers have found that simply standing up and moving more makes a world of difference.
Consider any of the following:
- Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
- If you’re watching television, stand up and move around for 5-10 minutes.
- Take stretch breaks.
- Replace your work desk with an adjustable standing desk and alternate between sitting and standing (a total of half your day standing and half sitting is ideal). If you can’t get a standing desk, try a high table or counter.
- Try walking for a work meeting.
- Try a treadmill desk or position your workstation above a treadmill so you can walk and work.
- Stand to fold and iron your laundry while watching television.
- Take the stairs.
- Park far away from the store or office to increase your step total.
- Walk around your office building or outside after completing a task. Or better yet, dance in your office!
- Be sure to stand up while traveling by plane or make regular stops to stretch your legs if you’re driving longer distances.
- Use exercise technology to track your daily steps and see if you can gradually increase them each day.
If contemplating adding exercise and more movement into your day is overwhelming, simply being aware of your sitting habits is a great place to start. You can gradually add more movement into your day and reduce sitting time, a little at a time.
The goal is permanent, lasting change. Don’t do too much too soon and abandon your efforts altogether.
Let’s stand together (pun intended) and share what we’ve learned about the dangers of sitting with others!
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