Modern society has been engineered for sitting. As a result, humans spend more time off their feet than ever before.
The idea that sitting can be harmful seems ridiculous at first thought. Sitting is a default human body posture, and when people work, socialize, study or travel, they often do so in a seated position. It’s second nature. However, that doesn’t mean sitting is harmless. It’s like eating — necessary, yet incredibly harmful if you do too much of it.
However, recent studies show that all this sitting is doing much more harm than anyone thought. More than half of us spend over six hours sitting down each and every day, and a widening rear end isn’t the only result. Sitting can have short- and long-term effects on your health and body, making this seemingly benign activity potentially deadly.
This article explores why sitting too much is seriously bad for your health.
- Weak Legs and Glutes
If you don’t use them, you lose them! By sitting all day, you’re not depending on your powerful lower body muscles to hold you up. This leads to muscle atrophy, which is the weakening of these muscles. Without strong leg and glute muscles to stabilize you, your body is at risk of injury.
- Weight Gain
Moving causes your muscles to release molecules like lipoprotein lipase, which helps process the fats and sugars you eat. When you spend most of your day sitting, the release of these molecules is lessened and your rear end is at greater risk of widening, according to research. You’re also at greater risk for metabolic syndrome, even if you exercise. One study found, unsurprisingly, that men who spent more time sitting than usual, gained more weight around the middle, which is the most dangerous place to store fat.
- Tight Hips and a Bad Back
As with your leg and glute muscles, your hips and back will suffer from sitting. Sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten, and your seated position can also hurt your back, particularly if you have bad posture or don’t use an ergonomic chair. Also, poor posture while sitting can cause compression on the discs in your spine and can lead to premature degeneration, which results in chronic pain.
- Anxiety and Depression
Lesser understood than some of the physical effects of sitting, are the mental effects. But the risk of both depression and anxiety are higher in people who sit the most. This could be because the mental health benefits of fitness are lacking when one spends their days sitting down rather than moving. If so, these risks could be mitigated with regular exercise.
- Cancer Risk
Emerging studies suggest that prolonged sitting can increase your risk of certain types of cancer, including lung, uterine, and colon cancers. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear.
- Heart Disease
Sitting can hurt your heart, potentially leading to cardiovascular disease. One study found that men who spent more than 23 hours per week watching television had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men who only watched television for 11 hours. Experts say people who sit more have a 147 percent higher risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
- Diabetes Risk
People who spend more time sitting also have a 112 percent increased risk of diabetes. In one study that looked at the effects of just five days of bed rest, researchers saw increased insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
- Varicose Veins
Sitting for long periods of time can cause blood to pool in the legs. This can lead to varicose veins, or spider veins, a smaller version of the former. Though generally not harmful themselves, these swollen and visible veins can be unsightly. In rare cases, they can lead to more serious conditions, like blood clots.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Deep vein thrombosis is a type of blood clot that’s most common in the legs. When part of this clot breaks off, it can cut off the flow of blood to other parts of the body such as your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. This is a medical emergency that can lead to major complications or even death. Sitting for too long, even on a long road trip, can cause DVT.
- Stiff Shoulders and Neck
As with your legs, butt, and lower back, your shoulders and neck will also suffer from prolonged sitting. This is especially true if you’re hunched over looking at a computer screen.
That’s not to say you should never sit down and relax, just that you should try to minimize the time you spend sitting during the workday. Minimizing sedentary time is just as important for health as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Exercising for 60 minutes a day, so that you can sit or lie down for the other 23 hours, is not going to cut it. You can’t outrun a bad diet, and you can’t out-exercise a sedentary lifestyle.