An average American sits at least 8 -10 hours a day for working, driving to and from work, or taking the public transportation. Then, some may go home and sit in front of the T.V. or on the computer for more hours. Sadly, research after research has been stating that sitting too long can cause a myriad of health problems, including death. But the most recent study from Oxford University debunks the correlation of sitting to mortality. Still, the study states why sitting prolonged periods of time is not recommended. And that's why I am sharing some creative ways you can be active while sitting and introducing you to a fun gadget called Cubii that allows you to exercise while sitting. But first, here are some harmful health effects on sitting.
Harmful Effects of Sitting Too Long
For years, there have been studies after studies that showed the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle and the researchers have been warning us to be more active. Some of the illnesses that are related to sitting are obesity, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and Death. Inactivity from sitting too long can also cause thrombosis due to lack of muscular movement in lower extremities, which can cause a blood clot. And if the clot travels to the lungs or the brain, it can cause death. This is one of the many reasons why you should move around when flying in airplanes. The same is true while working at your desk so you have to avoid sitting too long.
But as a Chiropractor, here are some of the biomechanical reasons why you should not sit too long and be inactive.
Biomechanical Effects of Sitting Too Long
- Neck & Shoulder Pain - staying in one posture without moving your head will cause neck and shoulder muscles to tighten up, causing spasms in some cases.
- Scoliosis - poor posture while sitting can cause poor musculature, which can cause a curvature of the spine.
- Low Back Pain - prolonged sitting will compress your spine, pressing on nerves and discs that may damage the low back structures permanently or at least cause temporary back pain. All of the stresses of the upper body will transport to the lower lumbar spine and it will eventually weaken and cause structural damage.
- Degenerative Joint Disease - when there is poor blood flow, it will hinder the delivery of proper nutrition to the joints. And when there is lack of nutrition and blood flow, joints will age and degenerate, causing degenerative arthritis.
- Disc Disease - constant pressure on the discs while sitting will cause the disc to diminish in height, degenerate and eventually, cause arthritis in the spine.
- Hypolordosis & Forward Head Carriage - this posture is a very common amongst desk and computer workers since people to tend to lean forward while trying to look into the screens. This will cause the neck and shoulder muscles to weaken, cause loss of proper lordosis in the neck and permanently cause a forward head carriage which can cause arthritis, if not, myositis.
- Joint Stiffness - when there is inactivity of muscular movement, a fluid retention occurs in joints, especially in lower extremities. Venous blood will stay stagnant and cause swelling of the ankles, feet, and lower calf.
New Study Suggests Prolonged Sitting Won't Kill You
The latest research that suggested prolonged sitting won't kill you were by researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London. They evaluated more than 5,000 people, including their total weekly sitting times, walking levels, and physical activity for 16 years. The participants reported their total time sitting and how long they sat during four different situations. The researchers also tracked time spent walking daily and on physical activity.
After controlling for a number of factors, including diet and general health, researchers found the overall mortality risk for these participants wasn't influenced by how long they sat or by the kind of sitting. According to one of the researchers, Melvyn Hilldon,
Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself, ... Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing."
In other words, regardless whether you are sitting for a long time or standing for a long time, it's the inactivity that matters. So even if you were to work on a standing desk, you need to change your positions and move.
Also, according to this research, people who became obese after sitting for a prolonged period of time were due to a certain type of sitting and not just any type. Also, prior history of obesity can contribute to T.V watching and not vice versa. According to the research,
Time spent sitting while at work, TV viewing, and non-TV leisure-time sitting were not associated with incident or prevalent obesity in this occupational cohort. Prior obesity was associated with the amount of time an individual spent sitting while watching TV.
There have been many studies linking T.V. watching to obesity but there are various reasons for the findings other than the posture of sitting. Inactivity is one of them but also, watching commercials of branded foods on T.V. contributes to more food consumption.
One thing for sure; more studies are needed to determine if mortality is caused by the posture of sitting versus any other posture, i.e. standing, or inactivity, since the study was conducted with the group of people who were active and had a better diet than other studies. Also, the question remains, is obesity as result of T.V. watching or are obese people more prone to inactivity so they watch more T.V?
Regardless what cause which type of harmful effects, it's certain that you need to move and not stay inactive. If you have to sit for work, here are some easy ways to be active to prevent from unhealthy consequences.
How to be Active & Not Sit Too Long
- Drink water - when you're working at your desk, you may become dehydrated because as you work, you are exhaling water, as you do when you sleep. But if you don't drink water, you are not replenishing your body with lost water. This doesn't mean, replenish with other liquids like coffee (which is diuretic so it actually causes you to lose more water) or soda. So in order to stay hydrated, stand up to get more water. Then, when it's time to refill, get up again. And inevitably, in time, you'll have to use the restroom, which will cause you to get up from sitting again. So drink more water when working. It does your body good in more ways than one.
- Walk 10,000 steps a day. Although exercising at the end of the day after sitting all day does NOT help you, making a goal to walk more than 10,000 steps a day will cause you to get up from sitting all day to take more steps.
- Take small breaks and stretch. To help you stretch properly, I've provided for you some stretches you can do at your desk while working. At every hour, take a break and do those stretches. Your body will thank you!