We live in an age where it’s possible to get everything we need without even leaving our homes. We shop online for all sorts of things - even our food can be delivered, we have access to all kinds of entertainment and, because of the global pandemic, many of us are working from home with no need to commute. And even if we do commute, it’s likely to be by car or public transport. As a result, many of us are spending more time in a seated position than ever before – and it’s affecting our health.
Why is Sitting for Too Long Bad for You?
Many of us sit for over half the time we’re awake! Whether we’re working at a desk, watching TV, playing computer games, scrolling through social media, driving or commuting, we spend multiple hours a day on our butts! In fact, if you work in an office, you may be spending more than 10 hours a day sitting.
But why is sitting for too long bad for you?
When you’re in a seated position you’re using far less energy than you would if you were moving or even just standing. And this sedentary behaviour is being linked with all kinds of health concerns from becoming overweight or obese with excess body fat around the waist to an increase in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
So how is your health affected by hours of sitting?
It limits the number of calories you burn
During the day we burn calories through what are called non-exercise activities, which include standing, walking and even fidgeting. This energy expenditure is known as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). When we sit or lie down, we use very little energy, reducing the number of calories we burn through NEAT.
It increases your risk of weight gain
If we sit for most of the day, we limit the number of calories we burn. This means that we’re more likely to gain weight and become overweight or obese.
It leads to muscle atrophy
If you don’t use your muscles, they’ll start to atrophy. By sitting all day, you’re not giving the powerful muscles of your lower body the stimulus they need to stay strong. And without strong leg and glute muscles, your body is less stable, and you are more at risk of injury, particularly as you age.
You may develop tight hips and a bad back together with stiff shoulders and neck
Sitting for long periods causes your hip flexors to shorten and if you don’t use an ergonomic chair and adopt the correct seated posture, it can negatively affect your lower back. Poor posture can also compress the discs in your spine and result in premature degeneration and chronic pain. Hunching over a computer screen for hours on end also leads to tension in the shoulders and neck.
It’s linked to premature death
Some studies have suggested that the more sedentary we are, the more likely it is that we will die early. Through observation of over 1 million people, it was found that the most sedentary people had a 22-49% greater risk of premature death.
What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risks?
While more study is needed to fully understand the risks and effects of sitting, it’s clear that more daily movement and less sitting will improve your health and wellbeing. There are many ways to incorporate additional movement into your day such as:
- Taking a break every 30 minutes or so to stand up and walk around
- Standing while talking on the phone
- Using a standing desk at work
- Scheduling walking meetings with colleagues rather than seated meetings whenever possible
- Wearing a pedometer or fitness tracker to monitor your steps and clocking up between 7500 and 10,000 steps per day
- Finding ways to incorporate extra steps into your day, such as parking in the space furthest from your building, taking the stairs, etc.
- Fitting daily exercise into your schedule
Exercise doesn’t completely remove the risk
Regular daily exercise is a great way to improve your health and fitness. However, even if you exercise for an hour every day, it doesn’t completely eliminate the risks associated with sitting. While, of course, we would always recommend that you take regular exercise, it’s important that you couple this with increased movement throughout the day if you want to reduce the risks linked to sitting for hours on end. Simply getting up and walking around for five minutes every hour will greatly increase your NEAT.
Reducing Aches and Pains from Sitting
If you do sit for long periods, you’re probably already aware of how it affects your body. Sitting hunched over a computer screen or adopting a poor posture while watching TV or playing games can result in aches and pains in the shoulders, neck, and lower back. If you spend hours sitting at a desk, you should make sure you have a comfortable, supportive chair, that your desk and monitor are at the correct height and that you adopt a comfortable seated position.
However, no matter how careful we are, aches and pains can develop when we sit for too long in the same position. If you experience soreness and discomfort as a result of sitting, massage will work wonders to relieve painful muscles and reduce tension. Either book yourself in for a regular massage with a therapist or invest in a massage gun to ease pain and relax aching muscles. Massage guns are an especially effective tool for reducing tension in the muscles, so if you’re suffering from aching shoulders and tight hip flexors, using a massage gun regularly will give you the relief you need without the need to visit a massage therapist.
Get Up Off Your Butt!
The main takeaway from this is that we should all be making the effort to move more throughout the day. Sitting for long periods does affect our health in lots of ways. So, if you’re reading this while sitting down, get up and walk around for five minutes! You have been warned!