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Keeping the body active is essential for good health, but this need often gets neglected due to the constraints of desk jobs that require one to sit in one place for extended periods.
Plus, the overwhelming hold of LED screens on kids, adults, and even the elderly has reposed them to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
People spend far too many hours stuck to a chair both in their personal and professional settings.
The lack of movement in one’s daily routine has a negative impact on all aspects of human health, paving the way for numerous ailments and even shortening one’s lifespan, (1) but most people realize this too late.
Negative Health Effects of Prolonged Sitting
Sitting in one place for long stretches can damage your health in the following ways.
1. Increase in body fat especially in lower limbs
Physical activity facilitates easy digestion of fats and sugars. Plus, it stimulates metabolism to burn excess calories and thereby avoid undue weight gain.
Conversely, an inactive lifestyle hampers the body’s ability to digest and metabolize fats and sugars properly. As a result, they get stored inside the body, causing weight gain.
As per a 2017 study, sitting for too long directs the excess fat toward the abdomen, where it piles up in the form of adipose tissue and adds inches to your waist. (2)
An increase in belly fat is, in turn, associated with a variety of chronic ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and cancer, all of which can lead to early death. This is why health experts stress the importance of reducing abdominal fat to lead fuller, longer lives. (3)
A 2018 study found that cutting your average sitting duration by an hour and using that time to stand and move around can help decrease waist circumference by 0.38 cm in the longitudinal analysis and 0.81 cm in the cross-sectional analysis. (4)
2. Problems with the legs and gluteal muscles as well as hip, back, and neck pain
You need to exercise your muscles to keep them strong, relaxed, and flexible. When you spend most of your day sitting down, the large leg and gluteal muscles will gradually weaken, tighten, and waste away.
Your lower limbs ground the body and carry its weight. Losing their strength will not only impede walking and running but also disrupt your entire body balance, making you prone to falls and accidents. Plus, feeble and stiff muscles are more likely to pull, strain, or cramp during exercise. (5)
Moreover, prolonged sitting, especially in poor posture, is bad for your neck, hip, and back muscles as well as your spine. Over time, it leads to shortening of the hip flexor muscles, which can later cause issues with your hip joints. It can also put excessive pressure on the discs in your spine, which makes them break down and hurt a lot.
To reverse the effects of extended sitting, take frequent stretching and exercise breaks throughout your day.
3. Anxiety and depression
There is still not enough research about the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle on mental health, but experts agree that a lack of physical activity and prolonged sitting can make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Moving around stimulates better blood flow and circulation throughout the body. This allows your brain to receive an unimpeded supply of nutrients and oxygen via the blood, which leads to sound mental health.
Conversely, sitting in one place for long hours regularly will slow down the flow of blood to the brain, hampering its overall function. As a result, you may find yourself unable to think clearly and retain focus on the most mundane tasks. (8) Not just that, it can negatively impact your mood and pave the way for stress, anxiety, and depression over time.
If you experience these problems, make a concerted effort to adopt more activity in your daily life, take frequent breaks between your sitting routine to move around, and notice the difference.
4. Diabetes, heart problems, and cancer
People who are in the habit of sitting in one place for prolonged stretches tend to be more prone to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer and have a higher risk of mortality from all these causes. (10)
A 2013 case study showed that a 31-year-old male who sat in one place continuously for hours regularly developed deep vein thrombosis due to the lack of physical activity. (11)
The link between prolonged sitting and the onset of diabetes is still not clearly understood, but one possible explanation is that a lack of movement relaxes your largest muscles.
Moreover, an inactive lifestyle has been linked with a higher risk of colon, endometrial cancer, breast, and lung cancers. (14) This may be attributed to inflammation, weight gain, and other changes brought on by sedentary behaviors.
How to Save Your Health From the Negative Impacts of Prolonged Sitting
- Stand up or, better yet, walk around while you are on the phone to break the monotony of sitting and get in some activity.
- Consider getting a standing desk or a high table/counter for your workstation. Install a standing desk for your home computer as well.
- If possible, place your work surface above a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk to keep yourself in motion while working.
- Go for a 10-minute walk after every 30 minutes of continuous sitting.
- Incorporate some form of exercise or yoga into your daily routine. Experts recommend at least 60–75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day to counteract the ill effects of excessive sitting. (15) If you have joint pain due to excessive sitting, ask a professional trainer to recommend appropriate exercises to loosen your joints up and provide relief.
- Be mindful of your posture while sitting. Straighten your upper back and neck while keeping your shoulders loose and relaxed.
Even the people who do manage to exercise every day but still spend considerable hours sitting in one place, on account of work or leisure, have an increased risk of developing metabolic syndromes and other health problems.
But the more active you are, the greater your chance of circumventing this risk. Plus, there are other ways to keep your body in motion even while you are stuck in a desk job.
The bottom line is that you must educate yourself about the dangers of such sedentary behaviors and make concerted efforts to counteract them in whatever way possible.