How Sitting too long can affect your Health + Infographics

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Do you sit in an office chair or on your couch for more than six hours a day? Since childhood you’ve known being a couch potato is bad. But why? Simply put, our bodies weren’t made to sit all day. Sitting for long periods of time, even with exercise, has a negative effect on our health. What’s worse, many of us sit up to 15 hours a day. That means some of us spend the bulk of our waking moments on the couch, in an office chair, or in a car.

Sitting all day long isn’t hard to counteract, but you have to keep your eye on two details: your daily activity and the amount of time you sit. Let’s start by taking a look at what sitting all day does to your body.

Numerous studies have pointed to the health risks of sitting all day. To avoid the health risks, we need not just 30 minutes of daily exercise, but taking every opportunity to get up during the day.

Effects on the body that can occur from sitting at your desk for too long.

Low energy expenditure
Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease
Sitting at your desk for too long reduces your non-exercise activity thermogenesis is generally a much greater component of total energy expenditure than exercise.

Slower metabolism
Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults
The decreased muscle contractions that occurs with prolonged, immobile sitting slows the clearance of fat from the blood stream and decreases the effect of insulin.

Compromised posture
Sitting bio-mechanics
Sitting causes the pelvis to rotate backward and puts pressure on the lumbar discs. This position forces the head forward and cause the shoulders to curve to compensate for the weight transfer.

Back and spine injuries
The biomechanics of low back injury: Implications on current practice in industry and the clinic
Prolonged, static loading of tissues over time puts undue pressure on the low back and stress the surrounding muscles and joints.

Reduced social skills
Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?
Interaction limited to communication over the internet is associated causes a decline in social involvement and psychological well-being.

Loneliness or depression
Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?
When the computer is used as the single form of communication, the size of a person’s social circle is believed to decline, and and feelings of depression and loneliness increase. Being stuck at your desk also means you’re probably not getting outside enough. This lack of sunshine can cause person to become deficient in vitamin D and ultimately lead to depression.

Metabolic Syndrome
Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease

Chronic Pain
Ergonomics of posture—Review of various problems of standing and sitting posture
Inadequate sitting postures, associated with long periods of sitting at a desk, provoke excessive increases of lower back pressure. These somatic pains can become the symptoms of chronic diseases.

Rheumatic disorders
Ergonomics of posture—Review of various problems of standing and sitting posture
Some rheumatic diseases like osteoarthritis are the result of “wear and tear” to the joints, like that of excessive amounts of sitting.

Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults
Sitting at a desk reduces a person’s energy expenditure because the body’s major muscle groups aren’t being utilized and calorie burning is minimized. Over an extended period of time this can lead to weight gain and in severe cases obesity.

Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults
Sitting at a desk all day impairs the body’s ability to handle blood sugar, causing a reduced sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps carry glucose from the blood into cells where it can be used for energy.

Occupational physical activity and the incidence of cancer of the breast, corpus uteri, and ovary in Shanghai.
Low physical activity occupations have an increased incidence of cancer. A study found women’s chances of developing breast, corpus uteri, and ovary cancer were heighten if working in a sedentary job.

Your risk of heart disease has increased by up to 64%
Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men

All-cause mortality is adversely effected from too much sitting, independent of physical activity.
Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults
A study found prolonged sitting time was responsible for 6.9% of deaths. The association between sitting and all-cause mortality remains consistent across women and men, age groups, weight, health and physical activity levels.

Tips on how to sit less and move more to live better.

  1. Periodically move around in your seat.
  2. Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
  3. Use a stand up desk.
  4. Have organized breaks throughout the day.
  5. Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.
  6. Position your work surface above a treadmill so that you can be in motion throughout the day.

Counteract the Consequences of Sitting and Still Maintain Your Current Lifestyle

  1. Remember to stand once an hour. 
  2. Get about 30 minutes of activity per day. An Australian study suggests short breaks from sitting once an hour can alleviate most of the problems described above. This isn’t about working out, it’s about creating pockets of moderate activity throughout the day and giving your body a respite from sitting. Of course, you don’t always have thirty minutes to spare, but you can break up that thirty minutes throughout the day: Break it up into ten minute segments, it’s the most practical. That way you’re creating a mini-stress in your body that helps increase your endurance.

You can estimate your daily activity and make sure you get out of the office chair throughout the day by doing something like this:

  1. Track how much activity you get in a regular day.
  2. Take a 30-minute walk and see how many steps you take, based on how quickly you walk and how large your steps are.
  3. Find a baseline of your daily activity. Start using a pedometer when you wake up in the morning and keep it in your pocket (or running on your phone) until you go to bed. This will give you an estimate of your regular daily activity.

Meet Your Daily Activity Target by Slightly Altering Your Behavior

A few simple changes to your daily behavior will help you reach your goal. Here are a few ideas for how to do it without really trying:

  • Park near the back of the parking lot.
  • Stand up to visit the file cabinet instead of rolling your chair.
  • Walk over and talk to a coworker instead of emailing them.
  • Take the scenic route to the bathroom instead of the most direct.
  • If you’re working from home, start walking to a nearby coffee shop in the afternoon and hop on an indoor bicycle for at least 10-20 minutes a day. If all else fails, do the laundry or something that makes you walk down and up the stairs.

Meeting your target activity level is just the first step. The second part is much simpler and only requires you stand up now and again.

Set an Hourly Standing Alarm to Remind You to Stand

We know that if you stand up for just one or two minutes every hour, it can reduce the negative effect of sitting all day. Technically, you don’t even have to move, the act of standing alone helps. When you’re in the moment and working hard, it’s difficult to remember.

If the alarm isn’t enough, you can download dedicated software to remind you. Windows users can use free programs like, Workrave or Breaker to set up automated alerts. For Macs, Time Out seems the best free option. These programs will remind you to stand and dim the desktop to force you out of your chair.

It’s up to you how you use these micro-breaks. You don’t even have to move if you don’t want to, but if you want to get a little activity in that minute, here’s a quick way to do it without leaving your desk area:

  1. Stand up.
  2. March in place for twenty seconds.
  3. Reach down and try to touch your toes for twenty seconds.
  4. Wander around and pick up or reorganize for the last twenty seconds (eventually your desk area may even be clean).

Turn those Crappy Commercials into an Excuse to Get Up

TV commercials suck. Instead of wasting time watching the same car commercial you’ve seen for the last 20 years, consider the commercial break a chance to stand and stretch.

The point is that most of the activities we sit down to enjoy (watching games, playing video games…) have these types of natural breaks in them. If you’re reading you can stand up after a chapter or two. If you’re playing board games you can stand up after each match. Instead of sitting and turning your mind off, stand and do it. It’s really that simple.

The moral here is two-fold: stand up once an hour and get at least 30 minutes of activity in a day. That’s it.

Img from How to Geek

14 Horrible Things That Can Happen If You Sit At Your Desk For Too Long by Sarah Kimmorley on Business Insider
How Sitting All Day Is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It by Thorin Klosowski on LifeHacker

More info:
• What are the risks of sitting too much? Answers from James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D. on Mayo Clinic
• Sitting and screen time: How they affect your health by Amina Zafar on CBC News


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