The Little Known Health Risks of Prolonged Sitting

We’ve heard that prolonged sitting can be bad for our health, and we may have felt a little guilty for watching a lot of TV in one sitting. But what exactly happens to our bodies with excessive amounts of sitting down? Current research has linked sitting for long periods with several health concerns. In this article we look at the potential health risks that result from prolonged periods of sitting and how to lower your chances of developing health problems.

Effects on Prolonged Sitting

Lower body

Sitting for an extended period can slow blood circulation throughout the body, causing poor circulation in the legs, leading to swollen ankles and possibly blood clots. One British Medical Journal study found that women who sat for more than 40 hours a week had at least double the risk of a clot moving to their lungs compared with those who sat for less than 10 hours.

The recent surge in cases of osteoporosis is attributed to the lack of activity, in other words sitting too much. Weight-bearing activities stimulate the bones of the lower body causing the bones to grow thicker and more robust.

Muscles

When you sit too much and lounge in a chair, you don’t use your abdominal muscles or abs as you should, causing mushy abs. Abdominal muscles will be stronger if you stand, move and sit up straight. Strong abs help support your back if you can, in turn, can decrease back pain.

Your gluteal muscles (or glutes) are a grouping of muscles that make up the buttock area. These can get used to doing nothing and become limp, and prolonged sitting encourages limp glutes. On the other hand, strong glutes increase stability and strength, which is essential in the ageing process.

Internal organs

Heart damage from sitting too much is linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. People with sedentary lifestyles are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease.

The pancreas

The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy. But cells with idle muscles won’t react as readily to insulin. Putting too much stress on the pancreas can lead to diabetes and other diseases. Studies link sitting to various cancers such as colon and endometrial cancers. While specific reasons for this may be unclear, one idea is that excess insulin in the body, and decreased natural antioxidants can all be traced back to prolonged sitting.

Brain Function

If you’ve ever experienced a foggy brain, it may be because you sit for extended amounts of time, causing your brain function to slow down. In contrast, muscles in motion pump fresh blood oxygen through the brain and trigger the release of beneficial chemicals.

Upper Body & Back

Sitting for long periods often causes individuals to crane their necks toward a keyboard or tilt their heads to cradle a phone while multitasking. This constrains the cervical vertebrae and can lead to permanent imbalances whilst causing neck pain and discomfort.

Sitting for extended periods can also put us at a greater risk for herniated lumbar discs. By not moving, our upper body weight rests entirely on our sitting bones, potentially causing disc damage.

While none of us would like to admit that we spend much time in our favourite chair, office workers may feel that a sedentary lifestyle is unavoidable. After 8 or 9 hours of intense concentration in the office chair, it may seem only natural to come home and put your feet up. This may add up to 15 hours of sitting in one day! But changing jobs may not be an option, so what can we do about it?

woman prolonged sitting on couch

How to integrate more movement into your day

It’s good to remember that our great grandparents likely never sat for more than 5 hours in one stint and never needed a Zumba or aerobics class to stay fit. Most of their waking hours were filled with physical exertion. After walking to get anywhere, manually laundering clothes, kneading bread, and working in the garden were typical days for many in that era.

But before you abandon your job or swap your washing machine for an old-fashioned washboard to wash clothes by hand, it is more realistic to scale back how long you sit in one duration.

Simply switching to a modern standing desk or walking to get a drink more frequently may mean effectively combating sedentariness. Replacing at least two hours of relaxation time with a little movement could mean better glucose control, lower triglycerides, and higher “good” HDL cholesterol. It may not seem like much, but one study showed that adding just two minutes more walking to each hour can decrease a person’s risk of dying by one-third. Just 8 minutes of movement every hour during the 16 hours we are awake adds up to over two hours more activity. A much healthier option rather than sitting through a break!

Here are a few more tips to get a few extra minutes of movement while doing the tasks you usually do anyway:

During phone calls – Remember to stand up whenever you’re on the phone. Why not use a hands-free headset and do light housework while you chat? A little pacing or tidying up all helps keep you healthy and avoids the urge to sit down during that next call.

Set a reminder: If you tend to sit for long stretches, set a reminder on your mobile or smart watch every hour to get up and move around.

Watch TV with movement in mind! At least once an hour, stand up and march on the spot, swing your arms, or do some easy stretches. Move a little while you watch TV. The average person watches almost five hours of television daily, but it doesn’t have to stop you from moving!

Take the longer route. Use the stairs instead of the lift, even for just one to two flights. Also, parking a little further away from your usual convenient space can mean extra movement, and you’ll get your steps in!

For more suggestions and tailored advice on how you can improve your health and mobility give us a call at the Backcare & Acupuncture Clinic in Walsall or Sutton Coldfield to find out how we can help you.

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