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Having a desk job means sitting for long periods on your work desk, typing away on documents, trying to beat deadlines, joining conference calls, having meetings, and more. After work, most people also sit around watching television or playing video games, leaving no time for physical activity. It’s rare for people to take a break from sitting and get up from their desks, walk around, or even step out for some fresh air. While this sitting-all-day work culture is viewed as a routine and a normal part of having a desk job, it’s actually a health concern for everyone.
An editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that spending too many hours sitting and being inactive can affect the body in a lot of ways, leading to numerous health hazards that can range from something as small as a back ache to something even worse such as premature death.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the negative effects of prolonged sitting and what you can do to lessen your physical inactivity, reduce the health risks, and eventually gain better health and overall well-being.
How Many Hours is Too Much Sitting?
According to a study done by BMC Public Health, sedentary behaviour contributes to an all-cause mortality. A lot of people, especially those who work desk jobs, sit up to 15 hours a day, leading to numerous problems inside and out.
The effects of sitting too much doesn’t only manifest in physical ways, but mentally as well. Aside from the risk of aching back muscles, diabetes, heart attack, and more, sitting can also affect the mind. When a person experiences health issues, this can cloud their focus at work, lessen productivity and may even lead them to developing depression and anxiety. Researchers also found that middle-aged adults who were sitting for more than 12 hours a day increased their odds of early death.
What is the Sitting Disease?
The “Sitting Disease” may sound like some mysterious condition, but it’s actually a collection of health problems related to having a sedentary lifestyle and excessive sitting. According to a study done by Harvard Health Publishing, there is growing evidence that habitual inactivity can possibly relax the largest muscles of the body.
When muscles relax, they take up very little amount of glucose from the blood, raising a person’s risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes. But this isn’t the only disease that one can develop from too much sitting. Here are some of the health risks and major complications that can happen when a person stays in a seated position throughout the day.
Back and Neck Pain
Sitting in the same position for several hours a day can compress a key disc in the lower back, causing back pain. Often, when workers sit in front of their computers, they tend to slouch as well, developing a poor posture. This can lead to problems in the neck as well, such as a herniated disc.
Having too much sedentary time can create slow blood flow in the legs, causing blood to pool in the area, creating varicose veins or spider veins. These can increase the risk of blood clots. A study from the British Medical Journal found that women who sat for more than 40 hours per week had double the risk of blood clots.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
An even greater risk than varicose veins is a condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). This type of blood clot is common in the legs and when a part of this clot breaks off, it can cut off the flow of the blood to the other parts of the body, such as the lungs, leading to pulmonary embolism. This is a medical emergency that can lead to a major complication or even death.
According to research, when a person spends most of their time sitting, it lessens the release of molecules such as lipoprotein lipase that processes fats and sugars from the food we eat. This increases cholesterol levels, leading to obesity and weight gain. It can also progress into metabolic syndrome, which heightens the likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
People who spend a long period of time sitting have an increased risk of diabetes, according to a study. Researchers found that five days of complete bed rest increased insulin resistance, becoming a precursor to diabetes.
Sitting for long periods and a lack of physical activity is a contributing factor in many cases of cardiovascular disease. Sedentary behavior impacts the body’s response to insulin, as well as a rise in blood pressure; the more a person sits, the more likely they are to have heart attacks. Other risk factors include body mass index and waist circumference as both can increase in number the longer a person sits throughout the day.
One of the worst effects of prolonged sitting time is the emergence of cancer in the body. This can include lung, uterine, and colon cancers. This is possibly due to inflammation, weight gain, and other body changes.
How Can I Reduce the Effect of Prolonged Sitting?
It’s not too late to avoid the risks of prolonged sitting time. It’s recommended to incorporate more movement through your day but of course, it is easier to think of it than actually do it. That said, here are some things that you can do to have more physical activity in your day.
Use Ergonomic Office Furniture
To reduce the health risks of sitting, it’s recommended that office workers switch between sitting and standing over the course of their day. It’s not easy to do this with a traditional office desk, which is why a standing desk would be the most ideal for office use. It’s suggested that workers stand every half hour to help in blood circulation, reduce body aches, and help a worker in keeping focused.
If one can’t acquire a standing desk, they can also opt for desk converters. These can be placed on top of a traditional desk and can function pretty much the same as standing desks, only they’re more portable. Having an ergonomic chair which reduces pressure on the spine can help as well.
Exercise at Work
You don’t have to bring the entire gym to your workplace. There are a lot of desk exercises that you can do in between your lunch break, or even when you’re on a conference call. You can do simple stretches, or even work your core while you’re in the office. If you truly want to take it up a notch, you can also use a treadmill desk for some cardio exercise on your work day.
Reduce Long Periods of Screen Time
Two hours of sitting in front of a computer screen or watching TV may already double the risk of heart attack. Not only that, but it can also give you eye strain, neck strain, and tension headaches. Just think about how long workers actually spend in front of their screens all day long. Reducing your screen time as much as possible can lessen your sedentary lifestyle. Instead of watching TV or being glued to your computer at work, you can do activities such as moderate exercise, walking around, doing yoga, and the like.
There’s a huge difference between the energy expenditure when sitting versus standing. As mentioned, the more we sit, the more we are likely to acquire chronic diseases. While we’re all driven by work, it’s also important to take care of our bodies and to remember taking breaks from sitting. Little movement breaks promotes a trimmer waistline, better glucose control, better blood circulation, less body aches, and a better overall well-being.
Do keep in mind that this article isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, it’s merely a suggestion on how to have a healthier lifestyle; if you experience any discomfort while seated for long hours, it’s important that you contact a doctor who can provide medical advice. Stay safe and stay healthy!