The Health Risks of Sitting All Day and What to do About It.

Sitting All Day: The Health Risks

With a body designed for moving regularly, most modern folks spend a majority of their day sitting on a chair. For example, an average of 9-10 hours is spent each day sitting for an average American adult. This is the type of inactivity not even a 60-minute workout can counterbalance. A new category of people is actively sedentary that sit for the rest of the day and work out for a single hour. Experts opine that 10 hours of inactivity cannot be cut out by one hour of exercise.

What is even more frightening is that most people don’t fit in workouts or a long walk in their schedule. In a sedentary state, the consequences of sitting too long can be deadly. A brief period of sitting all day is very different from sitting in and out, throughout the day as the latter can even shorten your life, apart from impacting your health.

Some researchers and doctors have even dedicated a good part of their career studying the health impact of sitting. Dr. James Levine at the Arizona State University Obesity Initiative has indicated that studies show when one is sitting for a long time period, numerous molecular cascade can take place if one stands up. Your body has been designed to be active.

Research shows that cellular mechanisms are activated for pushing fuel into your cells within seconds of standing up and this lowers the chance of diabetes as well as obesity. On the contrary, what does sitting all day do? Read on to know how a sedentary lifestyle can damage your health.

Organ Damage

Pancreas

One day of excessive sitting can adversely impact the ability of the body to react to insulin. This then causes the pancreas to produce a large amount of insulin triggering diabetes. Your chances of diabetes increase, with more than 8 hours of sitting in a day associated with a 90% risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Heart

When you sit down, the flow of blood becomes slower and less fat burns making it easy to clog the arteries. According to the American College of Cardiology, women who sit for 10/more hours in a day have a greater risk of cardiovascular problems as against those sitting for less than 5 hours or so.

Colon Cancer

Too much sitting increases the risk of many types of cancer. This includes breast and endometrial apart from colon cancers. Due to too much production of insulin, cells grow while sitting excessively. On the contrary, movement triggers antioxidants in the body that eliminate free radicals. Free radicals are extremely dangerous because they trigger oxidative stress and cause diseases like cancer.

Increased Risk of Lung and Uterine Cancer

Sitting causes an increase in the chances of lung cancer by around 55 percent and 10 percent more than this, for uterine cancer, according to researchers. Increased cancer risk is associated with obesity and linked changes in biochemistry such as modifications in hormones, the dysfunctionality of metabolism or even malfunctioning of leptin and resulting inflammation. All of these promote cancer.

Weak Digestion

Sitting down after eating slows down digestion and this can lead to heartburn, bloating, cramping and constipation due to compression of abdominal contents. Dysbiosis in GI tract can also result from weakening digestion due to excessive sitting.

Dysbiosis linked to gut microbiota leads to disorders in the intestine. What types of diseases are linked to these? Intestinal and extra-intestinal diseases include:

Brain Damage

Brain functioning also slows down if you sit for too long. This is because the blood flow lessens in speed and the supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients required to bring about an increase in brain and mood enhancement chemicals suffers.

Problems in Posture

Problems in Posture
Photo By: Bark/ CC BY

Strained neck and shoulders can result. Because you are holding your neck and head forward or bending in unnatural positions, it strains the cervical vertebrae and causes imbalances in neck strain, soreness of shoulders and back. Sitting for far too long can cause pressure on the spine and trigger back pain. Disks in the back were created to expand and contract as one move, which allows the absorption of blood as well as nutrients. Disks undergo compression when one sits and this can increase the chances of herniated disks too.

Apart from making muscles more vulnerable to prolonged sitting, degeneration and slouching leading to so many problems with the shoulders, backs, hips, and neck. The shoulders and neck stiffen and curve as the spine loses flexibility and absorbs pressure. The pelvic rotation goes the wrong way if one does not use an ergonomic chair or have a poor posture to commence with.

Degeneration of Muscles

Sitting tenses the abdominal muscles, This goes unused when sitting excessively leading to weakness of muscles, Hip muscles also become tight and restricted in motion and are rarely extended because of sitting too much, This can affect stability while moving as well.

Leg Disorders

Whether it is weak bones or varicose veins, sitting causes legs to undergo poor circulation causing swelling in varicose veins, blood clots and ankles called Deep Vein Thrombosis. Other weight-bearing activities strengthen bones making them dense, Lack of activity due to excessive sitting, on the other hand, leads to weakness of the bones. It may even cause osteoporosis.

Shortens Life

A study in the British/UK Journal of Sports Medicine found that for every one hour spent sitting viewing television after 25 lowers life expectancy by close to 22 minutes. Research has found that numerous health concerns have been associated with sitting too much, This ranges from increased blood sugar too high BP, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Sitting increases the risk of death, therefore. Any extended sitting can be harmful.

Weight Gain

Another trigger of an inactive lifestyle is increased weight gain. It works the other way round, too! Excessive sitting decreases LPL or lipoprotein lipase. This negatively impacts the body's capability for burning fat. This has led to increased fat stores and more carbs instead of fat for fuel. Consequently, the body continues to gain fat, while consuming low-calorific diet.

Poor Circulation

Another consequence of immobile sitting is inadequate circulation. Prolonged sitting can slow down circulation. It also causes the blood to pool in the feet and the legs. This can trigger varicose veins, swelling in the ankles and dangerous blood clots such as DVT or deep vein thrombosis.

Heart Disease

When the body burns less fat, blood circulation becomes terrible. So, there's an increased chance of fatty acids causing arterial blockage. This is why elevated cholesterol levels are linked to inactive sitting, high blood pressure, and heart disease. A study even found men spending more than 10 hours riding a car or over 23 hours a week watching television had 82 and 64 percent greater risk of suffering from heart disease compared to those spending less time significantly on both activities.

Weaker Muscles

Sitting the whole day loosens and weakens muscles in the body, especially those in the lower body and the midsection. Without strong glutes and legs, our lower body does not hold us up when sitting down or keeping us stable when jumping or walking, placing us at risk of injury. If one does not use it, one loses it.

Diabetes

As per a 2017 research, a link between diabetes and total sitting time has been discovered. There is a higher risk of diabetes in persons who are physically inactive, with prolonged sitting being a major factor. This further triggers muscle mass and strength resulting in lowered insulin sensitivity and higher chances of developing diabetes. This is because cells respond slowly to insulin.

Chronic Body Pain

The longer one sits and maintains bad posture, the more likely one can experience chronic pain in areas like shoulders, neck, back, legs and hips. Back pain is a considerable health problem in the US and linked to common job-related issues. As per the National Health Statistics Report by Center for Disease Control, close to half of the 125 million American adults had a type of musculoskeletal pain disorder, including pain in sciatica, joints, neck, and other linked conditions. Close to 20.3 percent have lower back pain.

Brain Damage

With the different types of mental work done while sitting, the brain needs to be in exceptional condition. If one is sitting the entire time, the brain will be unable to get enough blood flow and oxygen, which is required to function optimally. Consequently, the brain function slows down and one does not get optimal brain power. Brain cells can also be damaged due to glucose deprivation.

Anxiety and Depression

Another side effect of prolonged sitting is depression and anxiety. It is easy to see how: Those sitting all day long does not get the health and mood-alleviating benefits coming with staying fit and exercise. Being in front of a computer or TV all day long prevents sun exposure and social interaction, leading to vitamin D deficits and ill effects on the body. Living a life that is sedentary can be tough for health, and the less time one spends sitting or lying down, better chances are there for living a healthy life.

If one moves around or stands during the day, there is a lower risk of early death than if one is sitting all day long. Those with a sedentary lifestyle, there's a higher chance of being obese, developing heart disease or type II diabetes.

Impact on Legs and Glutes

Sitting for long periods of time leads to wasting and weakening of large leg and glute muscles. Large muscles are critical for walking and stabilizing the body. If muscles are weak, one can even be injured from falls and strains when exercise is carried out.

Build Up of Bad Cholesterol

Movement of muscles helps the body to digest sugars and fats consumed. If one spends a lot of time sitting, digestion is not as effective, so sugars and fats are retained as bad cholesterols in the body. Even if one exercises but spends excessive time sitting, health problems are common such as the metabolic syndrome. Recent research suggests one needs 60 to 75 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activity to combat excessive sitting problems.

Problems with Hips and Backs

Much like the legs and glutes, the back and hips will not support one as well if one sits for a long period. Sitting causes hip flexor muscles to shorten, leading to issues with the hip joint. Sitting for long periods causes issues with the back, especially if one consistently adopts poor posture or lacks an ergonomic work station or chair. Poor posture can lead to spine health issues such as spine disc compression. This can trigger painful premature degeneration.

The Dangers of Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of physical activity leads to over 3 million preventable deaths across the world each year. That constitutes 6 percent of all deaths. This is the 4th largest cause of death. It also triggers 21 to 25 percent of cases of colon and breast cancer, and 27 percent of the cases of diabetes. Further, 30 percent of ischemic heart disease is triggered by a sedentary lifestyle.

Children and Young People

Research shows that pre-schoolers and toddlers have an average of 6 hours of physical activity a day and one and a half hours of screen time. The numbers change when one looks at young people and children from 5 to 17 years of age. They spend 1.5 hours doing physical activities and over 2 hours each on a computer or TV screens. So the time spent on physical activity becomes smaller as young individuals get older when time spent on such screen-linked activities is higher.

Close to half of all young people and children are exposed to at least one type of screen, across TV, computer or game console. The figure grows to 3/4th for young people aged 15 to 17 years. Additionally, this age group was least likely to walk 12K steps every day, with only 7 percent reaching that goal. Younger children aged 5 to 11 years of age are much more likely to walk in the day at around 23 percent.

Young Adults

Young Adults are the most active of all adults. As people age, they become less active. Lowest activity levels are for 75-year-olds or older, with this group getting 20 minutes of activity per day. Only 1 in 4 individuals aged 75 or above were active.

What Does Sedentary Lifestyle Lead to?

Even if you engage in 2.5 hours of physical activity per week, increasing evidence indicates that 108 hours remaining in the waking week is critical for health. Researchers are not clear about how much one can sit during the day without getting health problems. However, studies do suggest the more you move, the better it is for you. Here are the general effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

#1 Too Much Sitting Leads to Diseases

Excessive sitting can lead to high blood glucose and excessive blood pressure. This increases the chances of diabetes and cardiovascular or heart disease. An analysis that combined results of numerous studies compared those who were active as against those who spend a long time not moving. The studies found too much sitting led to 112 percent increase in diabetes risk. There is also a 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events. This also marks a ninety percent increase in death on account of cardiovascular events. Sedentary life habits also see a 49 percent increase in death due to different causes.

#2 Too Much Sitting is Linked to Obesity

Even if one exercise, excessive sitting can make it hard to combat weight gain. Studies have shown people who spend too much time on TV watching gain weight across time and are more likely to be prone to obesity.

#3 Too Much Sitting Leads to Mood Problems

One is more likely to have depression or anxiety if they sit for longer time periods. In one recent study, employees sitting for longer than 6 hours per day were more prone to depression or anxiety. Employees who sat for less than three hours had fewer symptoms. Additionally going to the gym did not impact employee anxiety and depression levels.

What You Can Do About It

Change Your Movement Patterns at Work

Change Your Movement Patterns at Work
Photo By: James Willock/ CC BY

Stand while talking on the phone or consuming lunch. Work at a standing desk or use a high table or counter. Walk with colleagues to the conference room rather than taking the lift. Place your workstation above a treadmill. The impact of even leisurely movement can be beneficial, Move more and burn more calories generating more energy and combating weight loss. In contrast, sitting too much has lethal consequences. WHO has found that 1/4th of breast and colon cancers, 30% of heart disease and 27% of diabetes is caused by excessive sitting. American Institute for Cancer Research found that in a year, 49,000 cases of breast and 43 thousand cases of colon cancer can be caused by inactivity.

Take A Break

The importance of break should not be underestimated. Those who take a break from sitting to stretch, get a drink or walk around benefit. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found short periods of light activity can have the following benefits:

  • Reduced waistline
  • Increased cholesterol reduction
  • Insulin resistance

A Harvard School of Public Health found a meta-analysis or review from 1970 to 2011 found there was a clear link between sitting and type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular diseases.

Increase Activity Levels

Everyday non-exercise actions like standing, walking or even fidgeting burns calories. This is called NEAT or nonexercise activity thermogenesis. Too little of this energy expenditure causes fat gain. Studies have found agrarian workers burn 1000 calories more per day than those at desk jobs. Sedentary behavior causes more than thirty different chronic conditions. Walking fewer than 1,500 steps in a day can cause insulin resistance, so boost your activity levels. Break up long sitting periods with short bouts of activity for one to two minutes. Even light walking can benefit those sitting for long periods. Avoid sitting in front of a TV or computer for long and opt for community-based activities such as walking and trekking groups.

Sit On Exercise Balls

Sit On Exercise Balls
Photo By: Amazon

Sitting on exercise balls or backless stools can cause core muscles to function well. This suggests the central role of good posture for good health. Walk during the day and ensure that you use new methods like yoga and the treadmill desk. From stack sitting to stretch sitting there are many effective ways to minimize the risks of sitting all day long.

Sitting might be dangerous, even if there is a daily dose of moderate to intense exercise. Research has been mounting on how hours of sitting is a health-risk factor. Sitting raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and early death. Studies published in 2012 found sitting for long periods is linked to diseases. This is regardless of whether the sitter gets a recommended amount of intense and vigorous exercise.

Research also shows that burning fat is slowed by prolonged sitting, so less fat is burnt when one is up and exercising. Sitting time and activities not linked to exercise has been linked in epidemiological studies to impact rates of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and obesity. Sitting increases diabetes risk in ladies too. Studies have also found additional sitting hours per day increase insulin resistance and inflammation.

2-Minute Walk Breaks

2-minute walk breaks improve insulin response and glucose control. Breaking up the sitting time with 2-minute walks and breaks every twenty minutes improved the body's response to meals by 30 percent in a study in 2012. The study covered an office environment with overweight, middle-aged individuals. Walking at a moderate or light intensity for two minutes after every 20 minutes helped to ensure glucose control and insulin response. There are so many benefits of taking these breaks.

Consider that two hours per day of sitting in front of the computer or TV will double the risk of heart attack or other cardiac events. 4 hours per day of screen time raises the risk of death by any cause by more than half, as per the findings of a survey covering 4,500 individuals.

Reduce the Sitting Time

The more you sit, the younger you will die. A Cancer II study by the American Cancer Society of more than 100K healthy individuals tracked since 1992 founding women sitting for more than 6 hours during leisure time had 37 percent greater chances of dying younger than women who sat for 3 hours or less. Men also had an 18 percent chance of death. The study also found that those who exercised had lower effects of death than those who spent time sitting excessively. Further, research as per the British Journal of Sports Medicine found as per recent observational studies that excessive bouts of sitting time and lack of complete body muscular movement associated with deviated glucose metabolism, obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, and total mortality. This is independent of moderate to intense physical activity.

Decrease the amount of sitting by deploying these strategies.

Wear a Pedometer

The aim should be to increase total daily steps gradually to 10K steps in a day and log 500 steps per hour. That way, you can ensure that you don't sit still for longer time periods. If the phone is carried all day, all you need is a pedometer app.

Try Activity Monitors and Fitness Apps

Activity monitors and apps can be set to alert you during periods of physical inactivity. Those individuals with desk jobs and PCs can install programs like RSIGuard which alert individuals to move around every hour. Those tied to a cubicle can stand, walk in place, stretch at the desk or even pace while on the phone.

Opt for a Treadmill Desk

Build or purchase a treadmill desk so you can walk around while working, gaming, reading or even observing videos.

Increase Exercise

One needs to be active, besides spending less time sitting down. To reduce risks of ill health from lack of activity, it is advisable to exercise frequently, at least 150 minutes in a week and lower sitting time. Studies have also found excessive sitting was linked with being obese and overweight, besides developing type 2 diabetes, cancer and possibly dying earlier. Sitting for longer time periods slows down the metabolism, impacting the ability of the body to regulate blood glucose, blood pressure and break down body fat.

Adults spend up to 7 hours a day sitting or lying down on an average. This increases with age to 10 hours or more. Activities that typically involve sitting include watching the television, using the computer, traveling by a vehicle or homework. So, therefore, it is essential to sit for longer periods of time and undergo shorter bouts of activity for 1-2 minutes. Doctors, in fact, recommend taking an active break from sitting for at least every thirty minutes.

Some countries like the US, Finland, and Australia have also recommended children limit screening time for video games and television to just 1-2 hours a day. Exercising at least sixty minutes per day offsets the negative impact of sitting excessively across the day. Research on this topic started in the 1950s. The research found London bus drivers were twice as likely to suffer from heart problems as against bus conductors who walked a lot. The body shuts down and the bones and muscles become weaker.

Research on space astronauts in the early 70s discovered life in zero gravity was linked with speedy bone and muscle loss and aging. Extended periods of sitting simulates the effects of weightlessness on astronauts, according to researchers. Research on NASA astronauts found even light walking post the return from space was effective in overcoming the negative impact of weightlessness. Breaking up sitting time causes bones and muscles to be engaged and gives bodily functions a massive boost.

Activity Plans for Toddlers

For kids under 5 years of age, the focus needs to be on limiting the time spent watching television, traveling by car, train or bus or being on a buggy. Emerging evidence shows sedentary habits linked in earlier years with obesity and overweight tendencies also tends to impact cognitive development considerably. While this is a challenge for busy parents, advice impacts awareness that early life experiences and habits impact health as adults. It is essential to establish healthy behavior patterns during earlier years to protect against health detriments ahead.

The focus needs to be to reduce the time spent on infant carriers, highchairs or car seats. Additionally, time needs to be spent to reduce walking aids or baby bouncers. It is also essential to reduce the time spent in front of the television or other screens.

Activity Plan for Kids and Youth

Research has found that young people and kids in households with a lot of TVs and computers as well as gadgets tend to sit more. For those kids aged between 5 and 18 years, time spent sitting needs to be reduced, and that includes anything concerning moving in and around the community, classroom or home. It is also important for children to earn screen time, and fit in a family limit to the screen time every day. It is also essential to make homes computer and TV-free zones. Setting no screen time encourages kids to remain active and encourages participation in household chores. Choose gifts such as skateboards, balls, kites or scooters to encourage active play. Parents could also reduce TV time and other sitting based tasks.

Activity Plan for Adults

Adults aged between 19 and 64 should try to sit down less across the day, including at work, when at home and also while traveling. For reducing sitting time, try and stand on a bus or train. Another good habit is to take the stairs and walk up escalators. A reminder also needs to be set up every thirty minutes. Placing a laptop in a box or working while standing is also a good solution. While on the phone, take the time to stand and walk around. Taking a walk break each time one has coffee or tea is also advisable. Walking to co-workers desks instead of calling or emailing is also beneficial. So is swapping TV time for active hobbies and tasks.

Activity Plan for Older Adults

Older adults aged 65 and above are known to spend at least 10 hours each day sitting or lying down. These are easily the most sedentary population group. It also results from ill health and reduced functionality as well as social norms. Older adults also need to minimize the time spent in extended periods of sitting each day. A long period of sitting should be replaced by breaks that involve being on your feet and engaging in light movement.

Avoid lengthy periods in front of a PC or television. Move during commercial breaks and take the stairs as far as possible. It is also essential to take up hobbies like DIY and gardening. Joining in community-based activities like walking groups and dance classes and engaging in active play or doing housework is also the key to staying active and fit.

If one is aiming for activity, don't let bad weather stop you. You can even do body weight exercises like lunges, sit-ups, and squats. Try indoor activities like yoga, pilates, and indoor rock climbing or squash.

Conclusion

Sitting all day long has deadly consequences because the human body was meant to be active. Our ancestors would roam the earth. But modern man has invented technology to cut down on time. It is ironic that this very technology could bring about mankind’s end. So, get up. Start walking. Sit less. And enjoy the health benefits!

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