Why Sitting Too Much is Bad for Your Health

With the rise of office- and home-based work, much of which entails sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, the number of sedentary jobs has skyrocketed by 83% since 1950. On the other hand, jobs that require physical activity are less than 20% of the American workforce, a steep decline from what was approximately 50% in 1960. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, and what the workforce looks like in our new normal.

Unfortunately, an extensive body of research supports that sitting for long periods is linked to many negative health conditions. A review of studies in the 2015 Annals of Internal Medicine states that even after the inclusion of physical activity, excessive sitting can lead to health complications like Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. Every year, sedentary behavior contributes to over three million preventable deaths across the globe, which is approximately 6% of all deaths worldwide. It’s the fourth leading cause of death caused by non-communicable diseases.

With such grave statistics, read on to understand in detail how excessive and prolonged sitting deteriorates your health.

man sitting too much at work

The Negative Effects of Sitting Too Much

1. Increased risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases

According to a study, men who sat and watched TV for more than 23 hours per week were 64% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease versus men who only sat and watched TV for 11 hours per week. Some experts also state that inactive people who sit more are 147% more likely to suffer from a stroke or heart attack.

2. Deterioration of bones and muscles

The principle is simple: If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Prolonged and excessive sitting can atrophy large muscles like your leg and gluteal muscles, which are crucial for regular movements like walking and stabilizing. If these muscles waste away, you may become more susceptible to injuries and strains.

Your back and hip flexors can also suffer as they don’t support you as well when you’re sitting. Sitting for too long can shorten your hip flexors and result in hip joint problems. Inactive adults are also more likely to develop osteoporosis, which can impede basic everyday tasks.

3. Increased risk of mental concerns

While the specific link between mental health and sitting requires more study, there’s data to support that those who sit more and are inactive have a greater risk of experiencing depression and anxiety. This heightened vulnerability may be due to:

-isolation due to excessive screen-based activities versus real interactions.

-lack of sleep, which increases the likelihood of anxiety.

missing out on the benefits of exercise which is known to stimulate happy hormones.

woman anxious from sitting too much

4. Cancels out workouts (somewhat)

If you exercise for one hour every morning, then sit at your work desk for eight hours for the rest of the day, which one do you think will have a greater impact on your health? Sitting too much for too long can reduce the health benefits you should have been reaping from your workouts.

Recent research has found that high levels of exercise can curb some of the risks posed by excessive sitting. But even so, people who engage in high levels of activity typically sit for a maximum of 10 hours a day. Simply put, working out for an hour does not wipe out the damage caused by being relatively sedentary for the remaining 23 hours of the day.

5. Reduced overall health

A sedentary lifestyle puts you at risk of being overweight. Your body processes the fats and sugars you consume to generate energy for muscle movement. But if you aren’t moving very much, then all that fat and sugar stays in your system and may lead to metabolic syndrome. One study found that those who sit for longer periods gained more weight around their midsection, which is considered the most dangerous place to gain fat.

Sitting too much can also increase your likelihood of becoming diabetic by 112%. Inactivity, in general, can increase your chances of developing diabetes as research has shown that even five days of laying in bed can result in heightened resistance to insulin and cause your blood sugar to rise above healthy levels.

6. Development of varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis

Prolonged sitting can cause blood to pool in the legs and add pressure to the veins, leading to varicose veins. In rare but serious cases, these can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is a blood clot often caused by sitting for too long. This is a serious concern because if the clot breaks and travels through the body, it can cut off the blood circulation to other parts of the body and may get lodged in the lungs.

7. Harms posture

Sitting too much can wreak havoc on your posture as it puts a ton of stress on your spine, back muscles, and neck. The impact is much worse if you slouch, which many people do, especially if your job entails hunching over a keyboard for hours on end.

It can result in stiffness and pain in the neck and shoulders, chronic pain due to compressed discs in the spine, tightened hip flexors and hamstrings, and stiff joints. This doesn’t only impact your posture but can also reduce your range of motion and make it harder to do simple activities like walking.

8. Increased risk of cancer

Studies suggest that sitting for too long increases the likelihood of developing certain types of cancer, such as uterine, colon, and lung cancer. Post-menopausal women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Caring for your health is a multi-faceted approach. Part of a solid lifestyle means moving your body more. Try setting an alarm to go off every hour, and get up and move for five minutes. It’s a small change that can have a big impact.

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Author: Jonathan Baktari MD

CEO of e7health and US Drug Test Centers

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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