Excessive sitting is bad for your health - learn why
Sitting most of the day is not harmless to your health. It puts you at many risks, and you need to shorten the time in this posture.
Author: Silvia Marinova, PhD student in the Genomic Stability Laboratory at BAS
After about 2.5 million years of evolution of the human race, our species has gone from hunter-gatherer, leading an active lifestyle to providing food and survival, into a beneding office worker or city worker, spending most of the time sitting in warm rooms in front of a computer or TV.
This shift towards a sedentary lifestyle in the last 200 years after the industrial revolution is happening incomparably quickly with the previous tens of thousands of years in which our ancestors lived in search of food. Undoubtedly, this brings with it some consequences for our mental and physical health, and in this article we will focus on a specific aspect of the latter, namely the so-called "sitting disease".
"Sitting disease" - what is this
"Sitting disease" is a concept that has become a bye-by-name for the harm to our health from excessive time spent sitting. Studies in the field show that there is a link between sitting and overall mortality [ref.1], which is quite worrying, given that the daily life of many of us requires this position.
8 harms excessive sitting does to your body
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that every healthy adult should have at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week on average [ref.2]. Most people perceive this straight-line and the generally accepted view is that going to the gym 2-3 times a week or running in the park before work is a good salvation from the harm of sitting for 8 hours a day at work or on the couch. The uncomfortable truth, however, is another, and it is that general physical activity cannot fully compensate for the harm of spending a long time in a sitting position. And these damages are not an understatement. Here are some of them:
- Musculoskeletal changes - almost everyone who works in an office complains of pain in the shoulders and neck or in the lower back at least occasionally, and this is among the most obvious consequences of spending too much time sitting. It leads to the weakening of certain muscle groups and is a prerequisite for the appearance of functional changes as well as pain. In order to prevent that you need to strengthen your muscles systematically and balancedly through special exercises, as well as try to sit as properly as possible. We will talk about proper sitting position later in the article.
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes - an extensive review from 2012 shows that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of diabetes by 112% [ref.3]. Another study [ref.4] showed that interrupting sedation with short to medium-intensity walks reduced insulin levels after eating and improved blood sugar metabolism.
- Increased risk of gaining weight - on the one hand, prolonged sitting often means that you do not burn enough energy and therefore it is likely that you will start gaining weight. On the other hand, it is also associated with a slowdown in metabolism and the way you process accepted carbohydrates and fats, making it difficult for the body.
- An increased risk of cardiovascular disease - the same study mentioned above in relation to diabetes, points to another frightening statistical result - a 147% increased risk of cardiovasculardisease and a 90% increased risk of fatal outcome due to cardiovascular disease.
- Varicose veins - sitting disrupts blood circulation and increases the flow to the legs. Sitting makes it difficult for your veins, as it becomes more difficult to pump blood back to the heart. This can lead to swelling and pain in the legs, as well as varicose veins. Crossing the legs further impairs blood flow.
Read more in the article Circulatory system, varicose veins and prevention exercises
- Indigestion - sedation can affect our digestive system in several ways. First, by disrupting blood circulation. In addition, posture, especially if you are hunched over, leads to compression of your internal organs. One consequence of this is the disruption of normal peristaltic bowel movements. Compression of the stomach after eating can also cause reflux of stomach acids, which means that they enter the esophagus, causing damage to its lining. Another problem caused by constant sitting is hemorrhoids.
Read more in the articles What are hemorrhoids and when to call a doctor and Prevention, classic and herbal treatment of hemorrhoids
- An increased risk of depression and anxiety - in addition to your physical health, a sedentary lifestyle is also associated with your mental health. Research in the field found an actually increased risk of depressive symptoms in people spending most of their time in a physically inactive state. [ref.5]
- Increased risk of cancer - some cancers (such as colon and lung cancer) are positively associated with prolonged stay in a sitting position and generally with low physical activity.
The list presented is far from exhaustive - but it gives an overview of how many organs and systems in your body are affected by seemingly harmless sitting and lack of sufficient physical activity. That is why it is necessary to minimize the time we spend sitting and make an effort to build the right habits related to our posture.
What is the correct position of the body while sitting
As already mentioned, excessive time in this position is harmful to our musculoskeletal system and we need to make efforts to sit properly. Simply put, the correct sitting should keep the natural spinal curvatures in their normal state, which means that we should not sit bending forward or stretching too far back. The weight must be evenly distributed over the buttocks. The knees are at the height of the thighs, and the feet are firmly on the ground. It is important to avoid crossing the legs.
Read more in the articles Back pain, the role of muscles and treatment and Spinal distortions in children and adults - what to do
Furthermore, it is desirable to change the position in which we sit regularly even for a while and not to relax completely in the chair. It is recommended that every half an hour we should get up for a short movement and use every opportunity to do so. For this purpose, various browser plug-ins or mobile applications have been developed to remind us to move at certain intervals. We can also choose an ergonomic office chair, as well as a desk, the height of which is adjustable and allows us to work in an upright position from time to time.
- Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 Australian adults. Archives of internal medicine, 2013
- Physical activity in adults, WHO
- Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia, 2012
- Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Responses, Diabetes Care, 2012
- Sitting-time, physical activity, and depressive symptoms in mid-aged women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014
👩 🔬 Silvia Marinova has a BSc in Molecular biology (Sofia University, Bulgaria), and a MSc in structural biology (Grenoble, France). She is currently a doctoral student at the Laboratory of Genomic Stability at IMB, BAS. Her research interests are in the field of DNA repair, microscopy and biophysics. She loves photography, painting and sports.