Most people know that it’s good to engage in regular exercise and stay active, but fewer realize just how dangerous prolonged sitting can be. Unfortunately for those of you who love a long TV binge or work an office job, your body is changing in ways that undermine your overall health. Here are eight reasons why you should avoid sitting in one place for very long.
1. Risk of Heart Disease
Studies on cardiovascular health show that people who sit for large portions of the day are more likely to suffer from higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As a result, researchers have found that those who are most sedentary are over 50% more likely to develop heart disease in their lifetime. What explains this troubling connection? The current theory is that sitting slows your circulation and reduces your rate of fat-burning, encouraging fatty acids to build up in your cardiovascular system.
2. Back Problems
Back problems are some of the more obvious health issues caused by constant sitting, but you may be surprised by some of the consequences. For one thing, if your spine isn’t moving then it will slowly become more easily damaged, which can lead to painful and unexpected injuries when attempting to complete normal tasks (like reaching up to a cupboard shelf or leaning across a table to grab a pen). Most people also slump when they sit, creating widespread aches and pains by hyperextending certain muscles in the back.
Check out our guide on lower back pain causes and how to treat the pain with home remedies.
3. Possibility of Deep Vein Thrombosis
You have probably heard of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in connection with flying. The condition involves potentially dangerous clots forming in the large veins of the legs, and can sometimes be fatal if parts of these clots break off and make their way to the narrow blood vessels in the lungs. Even when you are not on a plane, sitting makes blood flow more sluggish and increases your risk of unwanted clotting. This risk is particularly salient if you smoke or are currently pregnant.
4. Increased Likelihood of Certain Cancers
A thorough review of recent cancer research has demonstrated a link between frequent sitting and a greater risk of developing cancers of the breast, colon, lung and endometrial lining. There is as yet no consensus on the explanation for this relationship, but some scientists speculate that cancer cell growth is facilitated by an increase in insulin that results from constant sitting.
5. Connection with Obesity
When you sit all day, you burn fewer calories so you are more likely to pack on pounds of unwanted weight. Standing burns a further 50 calories per hour, which can really add up over the course of a week. Interestingly, research on obesity suggests that even brief breaks from sitting are linked to a healthier BMI and a smaller waist circumference.
6. Poorer Muscle Tone
Sitting influences the muscle tone in a wide range of areas. For example, your abdominal muscles are crucial for core strength, and they are constantly being used when you stand or walk. On the other hand, when you are in a chair these muscles are not utilized and begin to weaken. Spine shape can sometimes change as a result. Similarly, your glutes do nothing except cushion you when you sit, and their weakening can interfere with your balance.
7. Possibility of Hip Problems
When your hips are frequently used and stay flexible, they boost your stability and help you to stay balanced. Sitting removes the need to extend your hip flexor muscles, tightening the area and reducing the amount of motion in your hips. Reduced hip mobility can really start to be a problem in later life, as it is strongly associated with more frequent falls and fractures in elderly people.
8. Link to a Shortened Lifespan
Finally, it is perhaps unsurprising that all of the above health issues combine to make it the case that people who sit a lot are more likely to die younger. One study found that every hour spent sitting reduces your life expectancy by close to 22 minutes, even if you have a healthy diet and a good exercise regime. Meanwhile, research on frequent TV watchers found that adults who sit in front of their screen for around six hours a day will live an average 4.8 fewer years than adults who do not watch TV. Similarly, another study showed that sitting for less than three hours a day could increase your life expectancy by up to two years.
While it is admittedly very difficult to avoid sitting for a large part of the day if your work conditions require it, making an effort to stand more often may boost your health and well-being. Even simply standing up to make phone calls or choosing to take a brisk walk during your lunch break could make a difference.