Why Sitting Down is Bad for You

Are you sitting comfortably? Well don’t get too comfortable. Sitting is not actually that good for you.

Experts believe that sitting down can cause many health related issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. One study even suggested that physical inactivity is the second highest cause of death in the United States.

Women with back pain sitting at desk

According to the British Heart Foundation, the average adult of working age is sedentary for 9.5 hours a day. The charity’s research also reported that, among office workers, just half of all women and two thirds of men walk around for just 30 minutes during their working day. In my previous working life as a therapist, many of my clients presented with bad backs and I reckon most of these were office workers. Their posture was poor, their necks ached and shoulders were rounded. If you are reading this in an office, have a look around – I bet most people at a screen are sitting with rounded shoulders, heads pushed forward.

So what is sitting down doing to your body?

Back and neck pain.
Unless you are sitting upright then chances are you will have rounded shoulders, which can lead to muscle tightness and a sore neck due to strain on the cervical vertebrae.  In turn, poor posture leads to back pain. Sitting for long periods puts strain on the spine and compresses the discs leading to pain. The tissue known as fascia between the joints starts to stick and we become inflexible. If muscles and joints become inflexible then pain arises and blood flow is restricted. Good blood flow is required to take oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body.

Hip pain.
Sitting for too long causes hip flexors to become weak, short and tight. The muscles in your backside, the glutes, also become weak.   Without strong hips and glutes, we can become unstable, out of balance and experience a tight lower back which in turn leads to tight hamstrings in the legs.

Varicose veins
If the blood isn’t being pumped by the muscles then varicose veins in the legs can occur. Although not life threatening they can lead to aching, heavy legs, muscle cramps, swollen ankles, not to mention the unsightliness of them.

Most people sitting down are probably using a screen, be it a TV or a computer.  Too much screen time can lead to headaches as the muscles around the eyes are strained. The strain on the cervical vertebrae can also lead to tightness of the muscles around the skull.

Sugar laden breakfast cereals, eating lunch at your desk, fizzy drinks biscuits and other unhealthy snacks and then not doing the exercise to work them off can lead to weight gain, and weight gain is linked to diabetes. A Danish study linked those sitting for 10+ hours a day with a 35% increase in diabetes.

So what can you do to help. Move, simple.

  1. Every 20 minutes get up and go for a walk to the end of the office, to the water cooler, to the stationery cupboard, just move.  And take the stairs, not the lift.
  2. Stretch. It’s cool to stretch and do yoga so you won’t look weird, I promise.
  3. Exercise.  The Department of Health recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week.  Ideally this would be split into 5 x 30 minutes and doesn’t have to be an exercise class.  Take a proper lunch break and go for a walk. Walk the kids to school. Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way to work.
  4. Get one of those apps that records your footsteps. I use Pacer. Ok you might not make 10,000 steps straight away but maybe aim for, say, 5000 to begin with then increase. You’ll  be amazed at how little you do each day (well I was!).
  5. Sit up straight. Move the chair nearer the desk, ensure screen is eye level and adjust the chair if necessary to support your back with feet rested on the floor.
  6. Stand.  You could stand on the train or bus, stand up when on the phone, stand when taking a coffee break, even stand up when working.

Right, I’ve been typing too long so I’m off for a walk.

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