The truth is that spending a lot of time sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your body because of the long-term effects on your health.
The Long-Term Effects of Prolonged Sitting
Sitting takes its toll on all parts of your body, from head to toe.
Effects on the Spine
Starting with the spine, which tends to show the most immediate effects, prolonged sitting can cause trouble in your lower back, in your shoulders and upper back, and in your neck. When you sit, all of the muscles on the front of your body pull forward, which over-stretches the shoulder, back, and spinal muscles on the back of your body. In your lower back this can put you at greater risk for herniated lumbar discs; in your shoulders and upper back it causes pain and inflexibility; and, in your neck it causes muscle strain from you having to hold your head at an awkward angle.
Effects on the Rest of the Body
Sitting causes you to pull your shoulders forward and your chest down toward your lap, which compresses all of the organs in your torso. However, it’s actually the cardiovascular effects of sitting that have the worst effects.
Prolonged sitting constricts the blood vessels in your legs, leading to poor circulation. That poor circulation can lead to varicose veins in the legs, and also to a condition called venous insufficiency which can cause blood clots and damage to the valves in your veins. This poor circulation can also affect how efficiently blood returns to your heart for oxygen, and ultimately how well the muscles, organs, and other tissues in your body get the oxygen and nutrients they need.
Sitting can also lead to muscle atrophy in your core – specifically your upper legs, lower back, and abs – because these muscles often go unused when you sit. As muscles atrophy they use less energy, which affects the way they respond to insulin, which triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin in response.
These are just a few of the effects that sitting can have on your body, all of which can lead to a higher risk of developing certain cancers and a shortened life span. Luckily, there are things you can do to stop the decline, and counteract the effects of sitting.
Turning the Tables
The most important thing you can do is get moving. While going to the gym several times a week is a good start, it’s not enough to counter the effects of hours of sitting. You have to incorporate movement and standing into your routine all day, every day.
One option is to use motorized stand up desk with adjustable height, which will allow you to stand up to do your work. That way, even if you are chained to your desk for the day, you can still get some movement in – especially in the leg muscles that are so important for good circulation. Adjustable desks can also help you improve your posture to relieve the strain on your lower spine, upper back, neck, and shoulders. If an adjustable desk is not an option, then the next best thing is to stand up at your regular desk, and only sit down if you need to write or use your computer.
You also need to schedule periods of movement throughout the day. For example, you can set a reminder to get up and march in place for 60 seconds, every thirty minutes. You can get up and talk to people face-to-face instead of calling or sending emails. Another option is to give yourself minibreaks, after you finish each task, where you get up and move around before moving on to the next task.
If you absolutely must sit, then practice proper eating to reduce the amount of strain on your spine and organs.
• The seat of your chair should be high enough that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
• Your shoulders should be relaxed; your arms close to your sides, and your elbows bent 90 degrees when resting on your desk.
• Your chin should be parallel with the floor, and your ears in line with your shoulders.
• Your feet should be flat on the floor.
Your chair should also have lumbar support. If the support is not built in, then use a pillow or cushion. Your monitor should be at, or slightly below, eye level so that you don’t have to crane your neck or tilt your head out of alignment.
At the end of the day, you should do exercises that stretch out the front of your body, and help relieve the strain in your back, including:
• Back bends;
• Hip flexor stretches; and
• Spinal twists.
You should also do exercises that strengthen your core muscles, such as Pilates, crunches, back extensions, squats, and lunges.
This is a blog post by Nancy Evans.