Are You Sitting Too Much?
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
One study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had:
- A nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause
- About a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack
The increased risk was separate from other traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking or high blood pressure.
Sitting in front of the TV isn’t the only concern. Any extended sitting — such as behind a desk at work or behind the wheel — can be harmful. What’s more, spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset the risk.
12 Reasons Too Much Sitting is Bad for Your Health
It Hurts Your Heart
Scientists first noticed something was up in a study that compared two similar groups: transit drivers, who sit most of the day, and conductors or guards, who don’t. Though their diets and lifestyles were a lot alike, those that sat were about twice as likely to get heart disease as those that stood.
It Can Shorten Your Life
You’re more likely to die earlier from any cause if you sit for long stretches at a time. It doesn’t help if you exercise every day or not. Of course, that’s no excuse to skip the gym. If you do that, your time may be even shorter.
Dementia Is More Likely
If you sit too much, your brain could look just like that of someone with dementia. Sitting also raises your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which all play a role in the condition. Moving throughout the day can help even more than exercise to lower your risk of all these health problems.
You’ll Undo All That Exercise
The effects of too much sitting are hard to counter with exercise. Even if you work out 7 hours a week — far more than the suggested 2-3 hours — you can’t reverse the effects of sitting 7 hours at a time. Don’t throw away all that hard work at the gym by hitting the couch for the rest of the day. Keep moving!
Your Odds of Diabetes Rise
Yup, you’re more likely to have it, too, if you sit all day. And it isn’t only because you burn fewer calories. It’s the actual sitting that seems to do it. It isn’t clear why, but doctors think sitting may change the way your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that helps it burn sugar and carbs for energy.
You Could Get DVT
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a clot that forms in your leg, often because you sit still for too long. It can be serious if the clot breaks free and lodges in your lung. You might notice swelling and pain, but some people have no symptoms. That’s why it’s a good idea to break up long sitting sessions.
You’ll Gain Weight
Watch a lot of TV? Surf the web for hours on end? You’re more likely to be overweight or obese. If you exercise every day, that’s good, but it won’t make a huge dent in extra weight you gain as a result of too much screen time
Your Anxiety Might Spike
It could be that you’re often by yourself and engaged in a screen-based activity. If this disrupts your sleep, you can get even more anxious. Plus, too much alone time can make you withdraw from friends and loved ones, which is linked to social anxiety. Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact cause.
It Wrecks Your Back
The seated position puts huge stress on your back muscles, neck, and spine. It’s even worse if you slouch. Look for an ergonomic chair — that means it’ll be the right height and support your back in the proper spots. But remember: No matter how comfortable you get, your back still won’t like a long sitting session. Get up and move around for a minute or two every half hour to keep your spine in line.
It Leads to Varicose Veins
Sit for too long and blood can pool in your legs. This puts added pressure in your veins. They could swell, twist, or bulge — what doctors call varicose veins. You may also see spider veins, bundles of broken blood vessels nearby. They usually aren’t serious, but they can ache. Your doctor can tell you about treatment options if you need them.
If You Don’t Move It, You Could Lose It
Older adults who aren’t active may be more likely to get osteoporosis (weakened bones) and could slowly become unable to perform basic tasks of everyday life, like taking a bath or using the toilet. While moderate exercise won’t prevent it, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon or take up farming to stay mobile in your golden years. Just don’t plant yourself on the couch for hours at a time.
Your Cancer Risk Goes Up
You may be more likely to get colon, endometrial, or lung cancer. The more you sit, the higher the odds. Older women have higher odds of breast cancer. That doesn’t change if you’re super-active. What matters is how much you sit.
The solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall.
How to Take a Stand
Work more movement into your day: Stand up and stretch every half hour or so. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever you have the chance or think about ways to walk while you work. For example:
- Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
- If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.
- Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.
The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you’ll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy. Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase.
When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.
Contributions from this article by James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D., and reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 23, 2017. Also contributions from Why sitting is bad for you reprinted by Neeti Jaychander at femina.in April 21, 2018
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*The content presented on this page is not intended to diagnose health problems or take the place of professional medical care.