Sitting makes up for a major part of our daily lives. The modern lifestyle requires us to sit for large periods of time. While it can be a wonderful rest to sit for a while after a long walk or a period of hard work, sitting is now more and more becoming a risk to the health of our bodies.
In this blog post we will look at the dangers of sitting too much, what problems it causes, how we can avoid or at least diminish those problems and so how to create a healthy balance between the “rest” and the “risk” elements of sitting.
The main problem with sitting all day long is that it prevents us from doing other (healthier) activities. When we are sitting, we are not walking, running, crawling, swimming, climbing, lifting or even standing. Not few of us sit for 15 hours a day, so not much time is left for those other activities. We really have turned into sedentary people. And as they say, the problem is, sedentary people can’t run away from diseases (this slogan was actually used by the Portuguese Ministry of Health in a campaign to promote a healthier lifestyle).
Also, we are not saying that sitting is inherently bad since it can be a nice resting position for a while after other activities and can also help us concentrate while we need to accomplish important tasks that require fine motor skills.
On a muscular level, prolonged sitting leads to several issues that with time have the potential to create major imbalances in the body.
One of them is that during sitting, the gluteal muscles (glutes, butt muscles) “switch off”, that means they become inactive or inhibited due to being in a lengthened position for a long time. Another related issue is that the hip flexor muscles tend to become short and tightened. Apart from those, there are potentially a lot of further muscular imbalances and postural problems related to long periods of sitting (often spent in horrible body positions), which include a rounded upper back (problems with thoracic spine extension, tight upper back and neck muscles) that in turn can lead to a host of other problems.
But apart from the muscular imbalances it can create, sitting brings even greater risks to our health. A recent study from Australia has shown that individuals who sat in front of the TV for four or more hours a day had an 80% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than for those who reported watching fewer than two hours daily. Other studies have shown that the increased risk to develop life-threatening conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease coming from prolonged sitting was unrelated to whether people did exercise or not. That means that, even though exercise is extremely important as part of a healthy lifestyle, in itself it cannot undo the health damages of prolonged sitting.
The infographic at the end of this post will further explain why sitting might be killing us.
Now, let’s look at how we can avoid or at least limit the problems and dangers that go along with sitting for extended periods of time.
I would like to introduce the concept of microbreaks which are precisely one effective tool to counteract the perils of sitting. Microbreaks are very small breaks that one takes every 10 to 20 minutes from one’s working position if it is a static position like in sitting at a desk. While of course it would desirable to have longer breaks, if taken every 10 to 20 minutes, breaks of just 30 to 60 seconds can already be sufficient to counterbalance the effects of sitting for an extended period previously.
To learn more details about microbreaks, please see the extensive article of Paul Ingraham of SaveYourself, the small microbreak brochure including two exercise descriptions by LA chiropractor Craig S. Liebenson and the article by Coach Keats Snydeman from Arizona, USA. The latter has also posted a clear and informative video on the topic which you can see down below, followed by another video by chiropractor Dr. Steve Hoffman from “Core Wellness Institute”.
Having all this information in mind, let’s all be more active!
If you happen to have a desk job, set up a reminder on your computer to make you get up and have a microbreak every 20 minutes. Find ways of spending more time walking and standing, rather than sitting the whole day. Get up, stand up! It might save your life!
And to conclude this post, I’ll share an interesting infographic (created by medicalbillingandcoding.org) and some further links and with you below.
1 – New York Times blog article on the dangers of sitting:
2 – Great extensive article on shoes, sitting and lower body dysfunctions by Steven Law from EatMoveImprove.
3 – Stanford University guidelines for microbreaks
4 – Great article on the risks of sitting with practical tips by University of New Mexico researcher Len Kravitz, Ph.D.