Is sitting the new smoking? The dangers of prolonged sitting


Our bodies are designed for regular movement, but most of us spend the majority of our day sitting instead. On average, we spend 9-10 hours sitting each day, which is so much inactivity that even a 30- or 60-minute workout cannot counteract its negative effects. Many of us don’t fit a workout or a long walk into our day either, which means that our bodies are virtually always in a sedentary state.

While a brief period of sitting here and there is natural, long periods of uninterrupted sitting day-in and day-out can be detrimental to your health.


What happens to your body when you sit for too long?

  • Blood flow slows down and muscles burn less fat.
  • Your body’s ability to respond to insulin is affected by just one day of excess sitting, which leads your pancreas to produce more insulin. This may increase the risk of type-2 diabetes.
  • Sitting down after you’ve eaten compresses your abdominal contents, slowing down digestion, leading to a number of gastro-intestinal problems
  • Your brain function slows
  • Neck and shoulder pain – it is common to hold your head and neck forward while sitting and working on a computer. This can lead to strain, tension, muscle imbalances, and headaches.
  • Back pain – sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing. This is even worse if you’re sitting hunched over at a desk. Prolonged sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten; decreases the activity in your core and postural muscles (i.e. glutes, hamstrings, quads, abdominals and pelvic floor); compresses the spine and increases the pressure on your intervertebral discs. This increases your risk of injury and low back pain.


Sitting is said to be the new smoking. Studies have shown that the more hours you spend sitting in a day, the shorter your lifespan may be. One study, for instance, found that reducing the average time you spend sitting down to less than three hours per day could increase your life expectancy by up to 0.2 years. Another study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, concluded that each hour spent sitting watching television after the age of 25 reduces your life expectancy by nearly 22 minutes.


So what can you do about it?

The answer is simple, get up and move! It sounds easy, but in reality, it may be harder for some of us to do.

Here are some tips to help you improve your activity throughout the day:

  • Invest in a pedometer or a fitness tracker. At first, you may be surprised to realize just how little you move each day. Set a goal of 7000 – 10000 steps per day.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Set a timer to remind you to stand up and move about for at least 3-5 minutes every half hour, or 10 minutes every hour. You can walk, stand or do a few simple exercises or stretches at your desk.
  • Use a standing workstation or alternate between a sit-stand desk.
  • Use an exercise ball for a chair. Sitting on an exercise ball engages your core muscles and helps improve balance and stability.



Guidelines on proper sitting posture:

  • Sit comfortably as close as possible to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel to your spine, your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, and your hands are resting on your work surface. You may need to adjust the height of your chair.
  • If your chair has an armrest, adjust it so that it just slightly lifts your arms at the shoulders.
  • Your head should be facing forward, and your gaze should be aimed at the centre of your computer screen.
  • Your buttocks and back should be right up against the back of the chair, and you should have a lower back support or a cushion to maintain the slight natural curve (lordosis) of your lumbar spine. Never lean forward, slump or slouch in your chair as this places extra stress on your spine and discs.
  • The backrest should be slightly reclined, about 10 degrees. Your knees should be in line with your hips and at a 90-degree angle, with your feet flat on the floor. You may need to prop your feet up on a footrest.

No matter how comfortable you are at your desk, prolonged, static posture is not good for your body. Remember to move about and stretch on a regular basis. This will maintain the mobility in your joints, activate your muscles and ensure proper blood supply, nutrition, and oxygenation to the entire body.


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