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Research has made connections between long periods of sitting and a series of health problems. Conditions such as increased blood pressure, excess body fat, high blood sugar and obesity have all been linked to the modern sedentary work style. Many of these health issues – including high cholesterol levels and excess body fat around the waist – are part of a disorder called the metabolic syndrome. In unison, they lead to cardiovascular disease as well as cancer, which can be terminal.

Every individual is different and unique. Human physiology, personality and genetic heritage varies from individual to individual. That said, blanket statements such as “if you sit for a said amount of time you’ll die sooner” should be avoided. 

“An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking. However, unlike some other studies, this analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting,” says the Mayo Clinic’s  Edward R. Laskowski, M.D.

Although more studies are needed, the lack of physical activity brought on by sitting has a clearly negative impact on health. What exactly happens when you sit too long?

Toxic build-up: 

When we sit – particularly in office chairs – our diaphragm does not expand to ideal levels. This means less oxygen is inhaled then distributed through the bloodstream. This prevents an effective return of fresh oxygenated blood to the cells and lymph notes for drainage. The body cannot remove cellular waste, resulting in toxic build-up and eventual sickness. 

Weight gain: 

When you move, your muscles release a series of molecules such as lipoprotein lipase. They help process fats and sugars that you ingest to burn as fuel. As mentioned earlier, sitting also increase metabolic syndrome risks which increases weight around the middle of the torso.

Weakened Glutes & Legs: 

When you don’t use a muscle, the body – in it’s brilliance – transfers the energy, as it sees no use in wasting resources. Therefore, long sedentary periods were you do not utilize your legs means they weaken. 

Risk of Cancer: 

Studies by many physicians such as Dr. David Dunstan, Professor & Head, Physical Activity Laboratory claims that mechanisms leading to network and inflammation disruptions encourage cancer development:

“Positive associations between Cancer and Sedentary Behaviour exist:

– Lung cancer increases by 54%

– Uterine cancer 66%

– Colon Cancer 30% increased risk.”

Heart Disease: 

Men who spend over twenty hours a week watching television in a sitting position have a 64% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This was concluded in juxtaposition to men who only watched 11 hours in an experiment conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Risk of Diabetes:  

The American Health Association found that physical inactivity rapidly causes microvascular dysfunction  and insulin resistance. They tested healthy individuals by measuring their insulin resistance in a 5 day period, all while sitting and in bed rest, remaining sedentary. The chart below shows a substantial increase. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Figure from AHAJournals.com displays “the effect of bed rest on the insulin (top) and glucose (bottom) response to an oral glucose load in 20 healthy subjects. Bed rest was associated with an increase in the insulin response (P<0.001) and the glucose response (P=0.03), reflecting the development of insulin resistance.”

These are merely a few long term conditions developed in part from sitting for longer than recommended periods of time. Others include varicose veins, DVT (deep vein thrombosis and stuff muscles such as shoulders and neck. Naturally, there are many other causes that can contribute to these developments. Always the proactive thinker, let’s discuss some methods that have proven to delay or inhibit the detrimental conditions that occur from over and day sitting.

  • Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
  • Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
  • If you work at a desk, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
  • Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
  • Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.
  • If working from home, use treadmill desks (or if you have an amazing boss!)

To conclude, there are many lifestyle changes and positive habits that can improve our health and hinder the effects of sitting down for long periods of time. As Dr. Laskowski mentioned, there are a lot more studies to be done and discoveries to be made.

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