Sitting and its effects on your Health
As the funny human stage diagram goes, we as a race have gone from being primates, to crouching and walking, to standing erect and finally to hunching over a computer screen. I am totally guilty of this as I am writing this article.
Thus, the bane of modern living, sitting for long hours.
What exactly is the difference when we stand and sit?
When we stand our core muscles are engaged just the keep up upright. These muscles are not as active when we sit. If you have tried yoga and any of the balancing poses like the “tree pose” or “Vrksasana”, you will know what I mean.
If you have done any such stability exercises you might just be speaking to yourself from the after-burn the next day, “oh, I never knew I had any muscles in this area of my body”.
Now, is sitting for long spells really that dangerous?
Let’s see what some of the studies have to say:
1) Sitting associated with type 2 diabetes
Some studies have found a link between excessive sedentary life and Type 2 Diabetes. Occupational sitting has been noted as a health risk and employees have been advises by some companies to take measures against prolonged sitting. We will see what these measures are below. (1, 2, 3)
2) Heart disease
Heart disease has also been associated with prolonged sitting.
There was a study conducted in the UK, involving almost eight hundred thousand volunteers. Individuals with the greatest sedentary time were compared to those with the least, and it was found that there was a 90% increase in risk due to a heart failure in the individuals with the most sitting time. (4, 5)
3) Weight Gain
This is probably a no-brainer; however, it must be said. The more you sit the more likely you are to gain weight.
This has also been scientifically proven. In a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, 10 lean and 10 mildly Obese volunteers were tested for 10 days. It was found that obese individuals sit for an average of about 2 hours longer daily. (6)
4) Increased risk of death
In a study of various articles, it was found that a sedentary life is associated with damaging health outcomes. This was found regardless of other physical activities. However, it was more pronounced in individuals of lower level of physical activity. (7)
5) Decreased Brain activity
As per the medical daily, when we sit, and to a greater extent when we slouch, we strain our spine. In this position, our lungs cannot expand fully, thus causing lesser oxygen to be conducted throughout our bodies and effectively lesser distributed to the brain. This accounts for lack of concentration, and decreased brain function. (8)
6) Pain in neck, shoulder and back
Excessive sitting is known to cause pain in the back, shoulders and neck. Various studies have been done as to the best position to minimize such pain.
As per spine health, poor posture over time can cause anatomical changes to your spine. This will result in nerves and blood vessels getting constricted or pinched. This is the source of back pain, due to problems in joints, muscles and discs.
Same goes for the shoulders and neck. (9, 10)
7) Muscle atrophy
A sedentary life is one of the leading causes of muscle atrophy, or loss in muscle mass.
As per md-health.com, Any sedentary lifestyle that results in very little exercise, can promote muscle atrophy. Thus sitting for extended periods of time would promote loss of muscle mass.
Symptoms of muscle atrophy would include flabby muscles, damaged muscles, pain and difficulty in moving and also heart failure. So, this is one thing not to be taken lightly. (11, 12)
Preventing Muscle Mass Loss
If Sitting is so Harmful, so what are my other option, you might be asking?
There are a few things you can do to offset the bad effects of sitting, which are:
1) Standing at regular intervals and maybe moving around a bit. Of course, this would depend on the type of job and office you are at. I would suggest getting up after sitting for an interval of about half hour and resuming after 5 minutes.
2) Get some exercise done during the day. This could be just a walk in the park or even something more serious like weight training. The idea is to increase your activity level, to counteract the effects of sitting.
3) Investing in a Standing Desk
There are now a number of standing desks in the market. A few are even adjustable that they form sitting desks and can be changed to standing desks when required. A good example, is the type that can be seen it the picture below (the image is clickable):
4) Invest in a treadmill Desk
This is a great way to not only do your work, but also keep fit at the same time. Here a treadmill is connected to your desk, which can be set a slow walking pace, where you continue walking as you work. You might be thinking; won’t I get tired? If you do, just use a standing stool to rest on and you are sorted.
A good option, is the one available from “Lifespan“, as can be seen in the picture below (the image is clickable):
Things to watch out for when investing in such equipment:
1) Ensure that any adjustable standing desks are sturdy enough. To avoid heartbreak, or just prevent you from having a bad day, ensue that you research the equipment before buying. Some people who have bought the adjustable desks find (especially the cheaper variety) that hinges fail and squeak or it might just be cumbersome to handle.
2) Treadmill desks. As moving parts are involved, they are prone to failure. Again, warranty and manufacturer after sales should be checked, here.
3) Start with small increments. In the initial phase if possible, have a sitting desk nearby where you can turn to when tired. And increase use of the standing desks or treadmill desks as you get used to them.
4) The Effect of sit to stand stations at work has increase the level of sitting outside of work. Thus, you should try to get a bit of physical activity even after your work day is through. (13)
5) If possible test the equipment before buying. You will be investing a fair amount of money in such a contraption and besides you will have to contend with it for a long time to come.
Sitting for long periods has a lot of negative health effects.
Consider investing in a standing or treadmill desk, to counteract these effects.
If you liked this article, consider sharing. Also, tell me if you have had any experience with a standing or Treadmill desk.