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, but it will develop gradually.
Here are 8 things that can happen to your body when you sit for prolonged periods.
1. Back pain
A Penn State study found that sitting for about four hours can cause compression on the discs in your lower back. Over time, this pressure may lead to disk degeneration, which is one of the most common causes of lower back pain .
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 activity of this enzyme is decreased 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 had a 32 percent higher risk for endometrial cancer than those who sat less than three hours daily .
The researchers also found that with every two-hour increase in people’s sitting time per day, their risk of colon cancer increased by 8 percent, and women’s risk of endometrial cancer increased by 10 percent.
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 study published in the journal Diabetologia found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 112 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
6. Increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
Sitting for too long is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study has found that men who spent more than 10 hours a week riding a car or over 23 hours a week watching TV had 82% and 64% greater risk of death due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) than those who spent significantly less time on both activities .
7. 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.
8. Shorten lifespan
Sitting too much could raise the risk of death from all causes.
According to American Cancer Society study, prolonged sitting time of more than 6 hours was associated with a 19 percent higher rate of death from all causes combined compared to sitting less than 3 hours per day.
In particular, the American Cancer Society study finds that women who sit for more than six hours a day were about 40 percent more likely to die during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Men were about 20 percent more likely to die.
- 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.