Advances in automation and technology has changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. One of the consequences of these advances, has been that people spend more time sitting at home and work. In fact, millions of people spend nearly 8 hours a day sitting while at work. And, while sitting is definitely more comfortable, prolonged sitting is detrimental to your health.
Furthermore, studies show Americans spend an average of six to eight hours every day sitting in their free time. And, during that time, they are either resting, watching television, playing video games, listening to music, reading a book or working on computer while sitting.
Moreover, the 2017 American time use survey by Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that an average American spends 8.78 hours each day on sitting related activities. In fact, activities included driving to and from work, driving the car to run errands, eating, drinking, working, attending classes, homework, TV, socializing, cell phone, mail, email and other activities on the computer. In addition, a 2018 survey of 5,900 adults, reported that nearly 26 percent, of those responding, sat for more than eight hours a day. While, another 45 percent, of those responding, didn’t get any moderate or vigorous exercise. Finally, nearly 11 percent were not only physically inactive but also sitting for more than eight hours a day.
Effects of Sitting Too Much – Metabolic Consequences
Sitting too much causes your large leg muscles to become inactive. Regrettably, this inactivity has harmful metabolic consequences.
Most of all, sitting too much affects your metabolism, interferes with healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Indeed, research shows that sitting too much causes obesity, high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Moreover, all of these conditions make up what is known as metabolic syndrome.
Effects of Too Much Sitting on Blood Circulation
Slows down blood flow causing blood to pool in the legs and feet, leading to varicose veins, swollen ankles, or even dangerous blood clots.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is caused by dangerous blood clots in the large veins of your legs. Sometimes, pieces of these clots break away from the clot itself and get into the narrow blood vessels of the lungs.
Sitting too much causes blood to pool in veins of the legs – resulting in increased pressure within the veins. As a result the veins stretch, which weakens the walls of the veins and damage the veins. Symptoms of varicose veins include changes in skin color, sores, rash or a burning sensation in the legs.
Most of all, Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme that breaks down fat so that it can be used as energy. But when LPL activity decreases, the body’s ability to burn fat suffers. As a result, the body uses carbohydrates for fuel, which in turn causes fat stores to increase. Paradoxically the body continues to gain fat even while consuming a low-calorie diet.
Causes you to become obese. Indeed a study showed that being immobile makes you gain weight, while moving frequently helps prevent it.
Effects of Prolonged Sitting – Muscles
Most noteworthy, muscles need to be used to become pliable. Regrettably, when muscles are locked in sitting position for long periods of time they get stiff. In addition, prolonged sitting weakens muscles in the midsection, glutes, and legs. Consequently, you are risking injury because your lower body has difficulty holding you up when you are sitting down. In addition, your lower body has difficulty keeping you stable when you are walking.
Muscles of the Upper Body
Above all, prolonged sitting and slouching causes your neck and shoulders to curve and stiffen. As a result, your spine loses its flexibility as it absorbs pressure, and your pelvis rotates the wrong way.
When you sit for too long, it is difficult to maintain good posture. You start to slouch and slump as you re-position yourself to be comfortable. Before too long, this slouching at the desk affects your posture when you stand or walk. Poor posture is very unattractive, painful and messes up your spine.
Weight gain and poor posture while sitting too long causes your muscles in the back and neck to tense up and soon you have serious aches and pain throughout your shoulders, neck, back, hips, and legs.
The major muscle groups in the arms — the biceps in front of upper arms, the triceps in the back and the forearms in your lower arms are all effected by sitting too much. Indeed, the triceps are a common area for fat deposits, meaning you’re most likely to notice excess, flabby skin in this area.
Moreover, long periods of sitting day in and day out, causes your muscles to pull the nerves around them. As a result your nerves get pinched and you feel pain in the shoulders and lower back.
Muscles of the Lower Body
The legs contain more muscle groups that any other part of your body. Prolonged sitting causes your quads, hamstrings, and calves to change, becoming less toned and perky as your muscles get smaller and less defined. The effects are first seen on your upper legs and hips, where fat deposits are common. This is largely due to the fact that fat in this area tends to be less metabolically active than the fat on other areas of the body.
The buttocks are made up of three major muscle groups: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles. Too much sitting causes these muscles to become soft and undefined, leaving your butt looking flat and misshapen. As these muscles lose their tone, you may have difficulty maintaining good balance.
Effects of Prolonged Sitting on Diseases
Above all, older people sitting for long periods of time are at risk of getting osteoporosis. Therefore older people need to increase their physical activity, because physical activity helps regulate bone maintenance, stimulate bone formation, and accumulation of minerals.
Also, research shows that sitting and inactivity increases risk of dementia.
Moreover, research suggests that excessive sitting has harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism, which in turn increases risk of heart disease.
Above all, when muscles are inactive they burn less fat. Therefore, a combination of slower blood flow and less fat being burned by muscles, means fatty acids have an easier time to clog your heart. Indeed, research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that women sitting more than 10 hours a day have a much greater risk of developing heart disease than those sitting five hours or less.
Furthermore, a study shows that cells in muscles that don’t move much don’t need much sugar or glucose. As a result, these cells don’t respond well to the insulin sent by the pancreas via the blood. Consequently, the pancreas make more and more insulin and this leads to diabetes. In fact, research published in Diabetologia reported that those who sat for the longest period of time were twice more likely to have diabetes compared with those who sat the least. Furthermore, sitting for more than 8 hours a day has been associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Effects of Prolonged Sitting – Cancer
Most noteworthy, a Journal of the National Cancer Institute study of 4 million individuals and 68,936 cancer patients found that long periods of sitting, increases risk of colon, endometrial, and possibly lung cancer. Furthermore, the research reported that even among healthy, active people, the risk of getting cancer increases with each two hour increases in sitting time. Presumably, the increased risk may be due to excess insulin production, which encourages cell growth. Also the lack of movement decreases antioxidants in your body. Which in turn hinders the elimination of cancer-causing free radicals. In fact, excessive sitting increases lung cancer by 54 percent, uterine cancer by 66 percent, colon cancer by 30 percent.
Effects of Prolonged Sitting on Mental Health
A study of 3,367 government employees found that those sitting over 6 hours a day reported symptoms of anxiety and depression when compared with those sitting less than 3 hours a day.
Another study of 9,000 middle-aged women, in the Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that women sitting for more than seven hours a day were 47 percent more likely to suffer from depression than women sitting four hours or less.
Effects on Longevity
Most noteworthy, a study reported that reducing the average time spent sitting to less than three hours a day increases your life expectancy by two years.
An Australian study reported that people watching an average of six hours of TV a day lived an average 4.8 years fewer than those who didn’t watch any TV. Furthermore, every hour of TV that participants watched after age 25 was associated with an additional 22 minute reduction in their life expectancy.
Meanwhile, thirteen studies on sitting time and activity levels found that those who daily sat eight hours or more, without any physical activity, had a risk of dying which was the same as that from obesity or smoking.
Finally, another study reported sitting time contributed little to the mortality of very active people.
Effects on Mortality
Most noteworthy, a survey of 125,000 adults by the American Cancer Society found that adults who sat six or more hours a day were 19 percent more likely to die over the next 21 years when compared to adults who spent less time on the couch or at a desk after the workday is over. Indeed, the risks of dying were significantly higher for 14 of 22 specific causes of death. And, these 14 causes were: Alzheimer’s, suicide, kidney disease, COPD (such as emphysema), nervous disorders, Parkinson’s disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, stroke, liver disease, pneumonitis, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. Regrettably, over the next 21 years, 48,000 people who responded to the survey died.
Meanwhile, another study followed 8,000 American adults, over the age of 45, from 2009 to 2017. Above all, the study monitored physical activities of these adults between 2009 and 2013 and their deaths through 2017. Most noteworthy, the study found risk of early death drop 17 percent in adults replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting by low-intensity physical activity. Also, adults, who replaced 30 minutes of sitting each day with moderate-to-vigorous exercise, saw their risk of early death decrease by 35 percent. Especially relevant, the higher risk of death holds even when people say they are trying to exercise. Regrettably, the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily does not eliminate risk from sitting during the remaining part of the day.
Regrettably, over the last 25 years, one of the leading causes of premature death in the United States has been the lack of physical activity. Furthermore, ten percent of early deaths in the United States were from being inactive.
Above all, being in front of the computer all day limits sun exposure. Consequently, since your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, you have eat foods that contain vitamin D.
Finally, lack of activity reduces your endurance levels and cardio health within two weeks of inactivity. And studies show that the amount of oxygen people take in falls rapidly after not training for a month.
Data from a million people showed 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity negated effects of prolonged sitting. Indeed, this 2016 study by the Norwegian School of Sports Science reported that one hour of moderate activity a day overcomes negative effects of sitting. In fact, they found that people who were sedentary for eight hours and had one hour of physical activity had a much lower risk than people who didn’t sit 8 hours but were not physically active. Consequently, physical activity really does help negate the impacts of sitting.
And still another 2016 study by researchers from the University of Leicester, used data from England’s 2008 Health Survey. Especially relevant, they found that people who exercise regularly do offset the negative effects of sitting all day. In addition, they found that those who led a sedentary lifestyle, and did not meet the exercise guidelines, had the highest risk for diabetes and heart disease. Also, those who exercised regularly while sitting for large portions of the day were able to offset the negative effects of sitting all day including high Body Mass Index and high cholesterol levels. Finally, those who did not exercise regularly but had a low sedentary lifestyle had higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Lastly, a 2014 study by researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington reported that taking a 5 minute walk every hour helped increase muscle activity and blood flow in participants sitting for 3 hours.
A study published in the March 21 2019 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at 14 years of activity and inactivity data of 92,500 people. Furthermore, one of the groups, in the study, were least active participants. And these participants had less than 17 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. So a sub-group of these participants were asked to replace 30 minutes of sitting with light activity. As a result, the study found that their risk of premature death dropped by 14 percent. In addition, the study also asked another sub-group of these participants to replace 30 minutes of sitting with moderate to vigorous physical activity. As a result, the study found their risk of premature death drop by 45 percent.
Remedies for Prolonged Sitting Problems
Above all, remedies to offset the effects of prolonged sitting include the following.
Take a break every 30 minutes and walk around so that you can stretch your legs and clear your head.
Or, if a break is impossible, just stand up and move around for a minute or two.
Next, stand while you are talking on the phone or watching television at home
Also, verify that you will be comfortable working at a desk where you have to stand
Meanwhile, walk across the hall to talk to a coworker instead of sending an email
And while an elevator may happen to be convenient, take the stairs instead
Incidentally, park your car as far away from the entrance as you are comfortable
In the same way, walk to your desk using a longer route from wherever you happen to be
Exercises Providing Relief from Prolonged Sitting
Most of all, exercise for short periods of time throughout the day. All the exercises, described below, can be done wherever you are sitting. In fact, some of these exercises can be merged into the overall sitting process thereby making it easy to do them and less of a chore or burden.
Exercising your arms – This one requires the use of dumbbells. The dumbbell bicep curl exercises your biceps. While the triceps kickback using dumbbells exercises your triceps.
Using the Wall
Standing push-ups – The standing push-ups exercise your arms. Stand facing a wall and push out your arms to the wall. Then bring your face to the wall and return. Do a set of 5. Or you can stand behind a desk and support yourself with your hands on the desk. Then, do a set of 5 push-ups against the desk.
Using the Chair
Sit upright with feet flat on the floor. Bring the palms together in front of the chest and push both hands together as hard as you can until you can feel the arm muscles contract. Hold position for 20 seconds. Do a set of 5.
Sit upright with feel flat on the floor. Clasp both hands with the four fingers in each hand in front of your chest so that the thumb of one hand is pointing while that in the other hand is pointing down. Then pull as hard as you can until you feel the biceps working. Hold for 20 seconds and release. Do a set of 5.
Sit on a chair and cross your legs. Then lift them off the floor. With you hands on the armrest, lift up your body and hold for 20 seconds, and then relax. Do a set of 5.
Chair dip – The chair dip exercises your arms. Place hands on the armrest. Move your bottom to the front of the seat. Slowly straighten your arms and lift the body off the chair and hold for 20 seconds. Next, return to the starting position. Do a set of 5.
Triceps dip – Sit on the edge of the chair with the palm of your hands of the front edge of the chair on either side of you. Plant your feet one or two steps in front of the chair. Next lift yourself up with the hands and move your butt over in front of the chair. Next bend your elbows so your butt comes down in front of the chair until the arms form a right angle at the elbows. Hold for 20 seconds and return to starting position. Do a set of 5.
Stand with your arms by your sides with palms facing behind you. Then push both arms back, making sure the arms are straight and hold for 20 seconds. Do a set of 5.
Shoulder raises – Shoulder raises relieves tension in the neck. Raise shoulders up toward your ear and hold for 10 seconds, and then relax. Or you can do one shoulder at a time. This one is easy to do and can be done even when you are sitting.
ABS squeeze – The ABS squeeze exercises your abs. Pull your lower abdominal muscles in so you feel the tightness in the abs and hold for 30 seconds. Do a set of 5. This one is, also, easy to do and can be done when sitting.
Back twist – The back twist is used to relieve tension in the back. Sit in a chair and place your right arm behind your right hip. Next, twist to the right side and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat the steps on the left side. Do a set of 3 on each side.
To prevent affecting your spine and causing permanent problems likes back pain and damage to spinal structures, always maintain proper posture by sitting up straight – and not hunched over to the table.
Using the Wall
Wall sit – The wall sit strengthens the glutes, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and adductor muscles. Stand with your back up against the wall and slowly lower yourself into a sitting position with your thighs parallel to the floor. Hold that of 30 seconds. Do a set of 3.
Using the Chair
Strengthen hamstrings – Stand behind a chair and hold for support. Gently move one foot back so that the heel is next to your thigh. Bring foot back and do the other leg. Do a set of 3 on each leg.
Leg planks – While at your desk, sit on the edge of your chair with knees bent and feet on the floor. Raise one leg straight up so it’s parallel to the floor. Hold for 20 second. Then do the other leg. Do a set of 3 with each leg. Or do both legs at the same time.
Tapping your feet – while seated tap your feet for 30 seconds. This one keeps blood circulating through your feet while also exercising your calf muscles.
Glute squeeze – squeeze the glutes as hard as you can and hold for 30 seconds. You can do this sitting down and without anyone noticing.
Squats – Squats exercise your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals and other core muscles. From your sitting position in the chair, stand up and then sit back down. Do a set of 5. In another variation, stand up and bend your knees so your thighs are parallel to the ground and hold up your arms in front of you, also parallel to the ground. Hold for 20 seconds. Do a set of 3.
Heel raises – Exercises the gastrocnemius muscles of your calves. Stand with feet shoulder width apart Raise your heels off the floor and stand on your toes. Then lower yourself back on the floor. Do a set of 5.
Leg raises – Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Raise on leg and bring it down after 20 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Do a set of 3 with each leg.
Exercising Machines Providing Relief from Prolonged Sitting
First of all, check to see if you can use a sitting stepper underneath your desk or a table.
Next, if you are a senior or elderly, check to see if pedal exercisers will work for you.
Stack sitting is a technique to prevent your back from hurting. Most of all, stack sitting is used in the absence of a backrest. Above all, as you sit, stack the bones of your spine, from top to bottom in a single column to support your head without using any muscles. Moreover, the video shows how to do stack sitting.
Similarly, stretch sitting is also a technique to prevent your back from hurting. First and foremost, sit back in a chair and curve your body forward from your waist, to elongate your back. Next, press your elongated spine against the back of the chair. Meanwhile, the video shows how to do stretch sitting.
In addition, try the stretches demonstrated in the video below. Most noteworthy, they open your chest, strengthen your back, and reinforce your core. As a result, you will maintain your range of movement. And, don’t forget to stand tall when you do get up from the chair.
Recommended Guidelines for Physical Activity
Meanwhile, the United States Department of Health and Human Services publishes physical activity guidelines and recommendations for Americans. And these guidelines recommend that, each week, Americans do either 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activities or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activities.
In addition, the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute also publishes guidelines on physical activities. And, in fact, these guidelines provide examples of physical activities that you can do around the house. Finally, these guidelines also describe physical activities that are moderately intense.