Do we live in a time where sitting takes up the majority of our day but could sitting too long be slowly crippling our bodies?
Even with a daily exercise regimen, researchers are now saying that sitting for a major part of the day may be deadly in the long run, and are even making comparisons like, “sitting is the new smoking.” Check out this peer-reviewed article for more information on sedentary living and our health.
ORGAN DAMAGE, ILLNESS, AND DISEASE
Did you know that people with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease than people with standing jobs? When we sit, our muscles burn less fat, and our blood flows much slower than it should – this encourages the build-up and clogging of fatty acids in the heart. In fact, after just 2 hours of sitting, your HDL (“good”) cholesterol drops 20%!
When we sit for too long, our blood sugar levels rise, because of enzyme changes that occur in our muscles. In fact, spending too much time sitting has been linked to a two-fold increase in the risk of developing diabetes. Scary, right? If you work a desk job, or sit down for long periods, make sure you get up every 30 minutes and walk around, do a few pushups or even a few squats!
Sitting too long linked to an early death? It seems so, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, which found that sitting for long periods of time increases the odds of dying young. Even individuals who exercised regularly risked shortening their lifespan if a majority of their day was spent sedentary. Sitting for more than 6-8 hours a day is not good, so make sure you keep active!
People who spend a majority of their day sitting have an increased risk colon cancer, as well as breast and endometrial cancer. The main link between these cancers and sitting for long periods is the increased insulin levels that encourage tumor cell growth. Moving around every now and then helps lower insulin, and getting up after a meal instead of sitting helps lower blood sugar. Go for a walk in nature after dinner and watch your health improve!
As we have seen, sitting too long results in higher insulin production – and what organ produces insulin? The pancreas of course! Insulin helps carry glucose to cells for energy, but cells in a chronically in-active body don’t respond as readily to this insulin release. The result? More insulin production and a higher risk of developing diabetes and other diseases. One study found that with just 1 day of prolonged sitting, the insulin response was drastically reduced.
You burn 30% more calories when you’re standing than when you’re sitting, no surprise, but when you’re sitting, the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase also shuts down, contributing to a larger waistline. Researchers at Tel Aviv University even found that sitting on your bottom for too long will make preadipocyte cells (cells that turn into fat calls) literally transform into fat cells faster!
STRAINED NECK AND SHOULDERS
Muscle strain and tension is a major cause of neck pain. This is often a result of muscle overuse from sitting at a desk or computer for too long. When you’re sitting, you’re often slouching too (especially if working on a computer at a desk) – this “crane neck” posture strains the cervical vertebrae and can lead to permanent imbalances. Slouching also overextends shoulder and back muscles, which results in chronic poor posture and “rolling in” of the shoulders.
When we are actively engaged in any form of activity, soft discs between the vertebrae expand and contract like shock absorbers, helping supply the disks of nutrients, fresh blood, and oxygen. When we are sitting for long periods of the day, the disks are out of balance, and also starved of these crucial nutrients. Collagen also hardens around tendons and ligaments that help support the spine, resulting in a stiff back with little flexibility. My tip? Do some yoga and slowly work your way into backbends – one of the most fool-proof ways to heal the spine.
As stated above, moving very little deprives our disks of crucial nutrients, blood, and oxygen. Not only that, but individuals who sit for long periods are more at risk for herniated lumbar disks. When you’re sitting, your spine is under a lot of pressure, and the weight isn’t evenly distributed. As Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., explains, “when you sit, you distort the natural curve of the spine, which means your back muscles have to do something to hold your back in shape because you’re no longer using the natural curves of the spine to lift yourself up against gravity.”
REDUCED MENTAL CLARITY and BRAIN FOG
When sedentary for long periods of time, everything slows down, even our brain function! This is no surprise, given the fact that when we move, fresh blood and oxygen are pumped to our brain at a faster rate, helping improve the release of productivity- and mood-enhancing chemicals.
When we stand straight and walk around, our abdominal muscles help keep us upright. But when we are sitting, our posture is often situated in such a way that our stomachs bulge and our ab muscles are loose. Always engage your core when sitting, especially if you work a desk job. Tuck in your lower abdominal muscles so that you can feel tightness and “engaging” in your abs.
Excessive sitting can actually shorten (and tighten) your hip flexors, which isn’t good news for those of us trying to improve our flexibility. People who sit for long periods of the day rarely extend their hip flexors, limiting their range of motion and stride length. How do you prevent your muscles from shortening? Deep squats, lunges, standing hip extensions and prone hip extensions are a good place to start.
When you’re sitting, your legs are doing nothing – and they get used to it too. Weak, limp legs can result in a host of biomechanical issues in the body like reduced stability, poor balance and increased risk of injury. Weak legs also increase your risk of having a higher rate of bone fracture – the stronger your legs, the more muscle there is protecting and supporting the bone.
To put it bluntly, our sitting habits are deteriorating our bodies in ways we never thought possible, but now that we have this information, we can make the change. Taking up yoga will make you more conscious throughout the day to stand tall and keep your posture straight. Even getting up to stretch, or walk around will be beneficial. They also make standing-desks that help avoid sitting in a chair all day long.