As people live more sedentary lives, either due to their jobs or because they spend too much time watching TV and playing games, new dangers have come to light. To sit down for too long can have direr consequences than back or leg pain. It can affect your cardiovascular health and even increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
The researchers on the subject admit that more studies are needed to find an effective way to counter these effects, but there are already some good suggestions that can help.
How much sitting is too much
There is no average value to check if you sit down for too long or not. It depends on your age, how comfortable and appropriate your chair and posture are and which sort of activity you do.
However, according to a research published in the British Medical Journal, the negative effects of sitting down for too long can already be felt after 4 hours. The researchers recommend small breaks at least every 30 minutes to try to deter these side-effects.
What health issues can arise if you sit down for too long?
As mentioned before, the consequences of having to sit down for too long go beyond the muscle pain from remaining in the same position for too long. And these side-effects can be so substantial that doing physical exercise can not always eradicate them.
When you sit for too long, you don’t use your legs and glutes. This continuous inactivity can result in muscle atrophy and have serious implications for your balance and strength to stabilize your body.
In more severe cases, it can even lead to injuries as the muscles become too weak to withstand any weight and exercise.
In the same line as the previous entry, when you sit down, you also don’t exercise your back. This can lead to muscle loss and increase the chances of back injuries and pain.
Likewise, the more you sit, the more likely you are to have a bad posture. When you don’t sit properly, you place your weight in the wrong muscles – the ones you are losing for sitting too much – which can damage your spine and put too much pressure on its discs.
The best way to assess the risks of sitting too much is by using light-intensity physical activities and compare the difference. That’s what a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN). did.
The conclusion was that walking and moving for about 2 minutes every hour can reduce the chances of a heart attack in 33% in comparison with those people who take fewer breaks.
If you’re not moving, your body isn’t spending energy. This means that the calories you eat won’t be used and will, in turn, become fat reserves. Likewise, you’re not using your muscles, there is no need for the brain to signal the body that it needs to process the fats and sugars you consume.
This can lead to weight gain, especially around the waist, which is, incidentally, one of the most dangerous areas to accumulate fat.
Risk of diabetes and death
According to a study by the University of Leicester in association with Loughborough University, those who sit down for too long can increase their chances of diabetes and death by more than a half.
These results were confirmed in a different study from 2007, with the researchers concluding that sitting for long periods of time can result in insulin resistance, increase blood pressure and dyslipidemia.
Varicose veins can be caused both by sitting down for too long and well as standing up too much.
Both activities inhibit a good blood flow in the legs since the blood has to fight gravity. This can lead the veins to dilate in order to promote a better flow and end up with enlarged and with a bluish-purple color.
Strategies to avoid sitting down for too long
As mentioned before, you should be taking small breaks of at least 2 minutes for every hour you sit to decrease your chances of a heart attack. But there are other little habits that you can take upon to help you counter the effect of having your bum sit down for too long.
Take small breaks
Getting up even if just a few minutes can restore a normal blood flow to the body and release the tension accumulated in the muscles. It also helps to lift up your mood and clear your mind, which means that you can actually be more productive after each break
Get up and prepare yourself a tea or a coffee. Walk to a further bathroom in the building rather than using the one closer to you. Or go directly to your colleagues instead of calling or emailing them asking for something.
Get a standing desk
Or, as an alternative, pile up several boxes on your desk and place your computer on top. Standing up for too many hours also has its side-effects, but you can alternate between a sitting and standing position to keep your body active and have both in moderation.
Get a mobile phone
If you have to answer the phone several times a day at your job place, consider asking for or getting a mobile phone instead. This way, you can get up and walk around while talking, which is also a great trick to organize your ideas.
Park your car far away
It is very convenient to park your car close-by your workplace, but give it a try and park it further away. You can then have an opportunity and an excuse for a small walk in the morning and at the end of the day to decompress your legs and remove the stiffness from the body.
Track your sitting time
Every time you take a break, take note of the time and how long it lasted. At the end of the day or of the week take a moment to analyze the results.
This is a very eye-opening method for you to realize that you sit down for too long and too many hours straight. By checking when you took the breaks you can also have a better perspective on your body’s needs and adapt your breaks to suit them.
Other tricks to decrease your sitting time
Here are some other little tricks that can help you move a bit more and sit less easily:
- Stand up on public transportation instead of sitting down
- Choose the stairs and not the elevator or the escalators.
- Move while standing (fidget, change your weight from one foot to the other)
- If possible, get regular messages to your legs and back
- Get a step counter to keep yourself motivated to reach your daily goal
You can check out the biological changes that sitting too much implies, why that is and a few other tricks to keep you moving, in the video below.