Prolonged sitting in the workplace has a major effect on the body and can increase the chances of certain health risks and life threatening diseases.
When you think of something that could threaten the fabric of your health, the last thing you probably think of is the amount of sitting you do during the day. But according to many researchers, it is one of the worst things you can put your body through.
Is Sitting the New Smoking?
The research says no, sitting all day is not as bad as smoking, but it comes close, maybe too close.
One researcher even claims to think otherwise. James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic says, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
What happens to your body when you sit all day?
Research has associated sitting for long periods with a large amount of health concerns. Not only do the health risks of sitting at a desk all day include increased blood pressure, higher blood sugar levels, and excess visceral and subcutaneous fat, they include back and body pains, higher levels of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer.
Let’s go over some of the health risks of sitting at a desk all day below.
#1 Back, neck and sciatica pain.
Prolonged sitting in the workplace has been shown to contribute to back, neck and sciatica pain. One study claims that back pain is the single leading cause of disability, preventing many people from engaging in work, as well as other activities. Yes you could injure your back from sports, accidents or random activities, but chronic back pain is going to come from being obese, having poor posture, and yes sitting.
This theory is consistent with many physical pains throughout the body, specifically in the joint regions. If you are not tending to tight muscles, you’re always going to experience aches and pains at your joints due to the muscles being in a constant state of contraction. That’s why many physical therapists will look at certain spots upstream and downstream of a muscle to fix a problem at the joint. The most effective way to treat your back pain: stop sitting.
Why Is Sitting Bad for Your Back?
So why is sitting bad for your back? Well the main and most prolific cause comes from a muscle called the psoas, also known as the hip flexors muscle. The psoas runs from the lumbar vertebrae (lower back) through the pelvic region to the upper femur. Any time a muscle is constantly in a state of contraction like the psoas is when you are sitting, the more stress that muscle is putting on the origin and insertion (beginning and ending) locations of that muscle (usually at a joint), thus causing pain.
Another effect of prolonged sitting in the workplace is obesity. The premise here is if you’re sitting all day, you’re not making any effort to move around, retaining all calories you accumulated during the day. On average, you burn 50 calories per hour standing. This could add up to burning an extra 400 calories per 8 hour work day. Not only that, if you are standing throughout the day, you are consciously making a decision to improve your health, which could lead you to doing better things for your health in other aspects of your life. A study done in London, UK showed how the amount of sitting you do, along with the exercise you get every week affects your chances of becoming obese. High levels of exercise were associated with a 36% reduced risk of obesity after 5 years, and 37% after 10 years. Not only that, when you add sitting into the equation, those who had exercised the most and sat the least had a 74% lower risk of obesity after 5 years. After 10 years, 49%. Want to stay fit and lean? Stand and exercise, every day.
#3 Type-2 Diabetes, and Cancer
Another way sitting is harmful to your health can be through a degenerative disease, or even worse, cancer? The simple act of standing during your day over sitting can have a huge effect on the likelihood that you’ll contract something terrible that you may have to deal with for the rest of your life. Christine Friedenreich, an epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada, estimates that 173,000 cases of cancer in the U.S. are due to inactivity. Christine’s work adds to a growing body of research demonstrating the lethal consequences of prolonged sitting. Not only that, one study from the Netherlands found that people who were sedentary were more likely to develop type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome than those who were less sedentary.
With the average American sitting almost 7 hours per day, it’s no wonder we see all of these health conditions consuming our lives.
Effects of Prolonged Sitting on Muscles
There are several effects of prolonged sitting on muscles. First, your muscles will begin to tighten up over time and put your body into a bad position, causing, body, back, neck, hip and knee pain. This will get worse over time, leading you to be hunched over and sleep poorly, compressing the organs in the process.
Second, your muscles will become stiff and immobile, your fascia and connective tissue will become dense and immovable.
Third, your posture and body alignment will get worse, creating impingement and pain.
Last, your muscles will become weak from not getting used from sitting all day at your desk.
How to Counteract Sitting All Day?
Here are 5 steps to counteract sitting all day, get yourself to stand, and move a little bit in that standing position.
STEP 1 – START STANDING AT WORK
Start taking 10 minutes out of every hour at work to stand. When you get used to that, increase to 15 minutes and so on. Use a standing desk. I have a standing desk and it frequently gets used during the day. It keeps me active during my work day. By doing this, your muscles will lengthen to their natural length, your posture will improve, and your health will improve over time.
If you’re serious about exercising more during the work day, check out my article ->> The 10 Best Pieces of Exercise Equipment You Need for Your Office Cubicle
STEP 2 – START STANDING AT HOME
If you’re going straight home, plopping down on the couch, and getting an extra 4 hours of sitting to complete your evening, maybe it’s time to start standing, or better yet, get a little exercise while you’re letting your brain melt away. Play a workout video on your phone, get a standing treadmill, elliptical, recumbent bike, or rowing machine. A lot of living room exercise equipment these days have a folding option where they can be tucked away after use.
STEP 3 – START WALKING AT WORK
Don’t just stand, move your body. There are more options than ever to keep your body moving while you type away at your desk, and many of them are light and easy to move around. There are mini treadmills, ellipticals and foot bikes you can place under your desk that can keep your legs moving throughout the day. Get your heart pumping a little bit and relieve some of that stress that you accumulate during the day.
STEP 4 – SET A TIMER
Do you want to standup but frequently forget to during the day and find yourself sitting for 3 hours straight? Once you sit back down, set a timer to get back up in the next 30 minutes or whatever frequency you have built up to. Consistency is key. Once you start anything in life, you need to be consistent or you’ll quickly undo everything you’ve built up. I work out every day at lunch and rarely skip. I don’t let people drag me to restaurants to eat though they frequently ask. I stay consistent and it pays off. Same goes with getting your standing/standing exercise in.
STEP 5 – WEAR MORE COMFORTABLE SHOES
If you’re going to be standing during your day, you’re probably going to want something besides those high heels to get you through your day. Wear something with good cushion and good ankle support. There are a lot of hybrid shoes that look dressy, but are made for comfort and walking. Get a good quality pair and start putting them to good use.
BONUS STEP – USE A STABILITY BALL
If you need to sit during the day at home or at work, try a stability ball. It will force you to use your core and legs to keep you balanced. Your posture will thank you.
Summary: The Effects of Prolonged Sitting in the Workplace (Health Risks)
If you find yourself sitting for any extended period of time throughout the day, it’s time you re-evaluate how you want to spend that time. Small changes will lead to big results over time. It’s the mindset that needs to change. If you’re able to make the small changes in one aspect of your life, you’re going to make healthier decisions in the other areas of your life, starting a snowball effect that can last a lifetime.
How many hours are you sitting per day? Do you think you can change the habit? Comment below!