Many adults spend more than six hours a day sitting or lying, and this typically increases with age to nine hours or more. Whether you spend those hours in front of a desk or in front of a television, prolonged sitting can negatively affect your body and health. Even if you exercise on a regular basis, exercise alone may not be enough to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting, researchers warn.
A human body is designed to move regularly. Being inactive for longer periods of time can be harmful to the health. Certainly, the effects will not happen just in a day. However, it will develop gradually.
Here are 8 things that can happen to your body when you spend too much time sitting or inactive for prolonged periods.
1. Back and Neck Pain
A Penn State study found that sitting for more than four hours can cause compression of certain disks in the lower back. Over time, this pressure may lead to disk degeneration, which one of the most common causes of lower back pain.
While sitting at a desk may not be the only cause of back pain, but sitting for long periods can certainly cause injuries to the low back. For example, if you have a herniated disc, your doctor may suggest you to avoid sitting for long periods, as the flexed posture puts added strain on injured discs in the low back.
2. Weak Legs
Sitting for long periods of time can lead to poor circulation in your legs, which can cause muscle fibers to break down. This occurrence is known as muscle atrophy and can make your leg muscles weak over time.
3. Weight Gain
Prolonged sitting slows down your metabolisms and therefore you gain weight. Sitting also suppress lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that removes fat from the blood and transfer it to your muscles to be used during periods of activity. When you spend most of your time sitting, the release of this enzyme is lessened and this means that fat is not removed from your blood and absorbed by your muscles.
4. Increase Cancer Risk
A German meta-analysis concluded that people who sat for long periods of time each day were 24 percent more likely to develop colon cancer and a 32 percent higher risk for endometrial cancer than those who sat less than three hours daily.
Furthermore, every two-hour increase in sitting time was linked to an 8 percent increased risk of colon cancer and a 10 percent increased risk of endometrial cancer.
5. Increase Diabetes Risk
Sitting at a desk all day impairs the body’s ability to handle blood sugar, causing a reduced sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps carry glucose from the blood into cells. Without enough insulin, excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, leading to diabetes. A new study found that those sit for more than eight hours a day had a 112 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
6. Increase Heart Disease Risk
Sitting for too long has been associated with heart problems. A new study found that those obese people who sat for long periods of time had increased risk of heart disease. In turn, reducing their sitting time can lessen their chances of developing the disease. Experts have advised patients with heart diseases to take breaks from sitting down because physical inactivity can cause their health to worsen.
7. Shorten Lifespan
According to a study conducted by the University of Sydney, too much sitting can shorten one’s life. In the study, adults who sat ten or more hours per day had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next three years compared with those who sat less than four hours a day.
The study also found that women who sat for six or more hours daily were 37% more likely to die over a 13-year period compared with those who sat for three hours or less daily. For men, the risk of dying increased 17% over the same period for those who sat at least six hours a day.
8. Slow Down Brain Function
Sitting for too long may affects your brain too. When we move our muscles, our heart pumps fresh blood and oxygen to the brain, which triggers the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. Your brain function will actually slow when you’re sedentary for long periods of time. According to a study published in the Harvard University blog post, excessive sitting has even been associated with an increased risk for dementia.
- Try to decrease sitting time by a few minutes each day. The experts advised aiming for 3 hours or less of time spent sitting in a 12-hour day.
- Stand up from your desk at least every hour for a few minutes or walk around when you’re working. For best results, you can set a timer on your phone or download an app that will remind you to move. After you use the timer for a few days, you should find yourself starting to develop the habit of getting up to move around on your own.
- In addition to taking frequent movement breaks when sitting, make sure to do stretch at least once every hour. Gentle stretches for the back and neck will help alleviate soreness and stiffness, and improve blood flow throughout the body. You can start by raising your arms over your head while standing on your toes to open the back and relax tight muscles. Also, take a few deep breathes while stretching to boost the oxygen to the brain.
- If you watch TV while seated, get up during commercial breaks or try watching TV while standing or exercising.
- Keep exercising regardless of how you spend the rest of the day. The more time spent exercising means the less time spent being inactive.