Is Sitting Too Much Bad for You?

Posted by Michael Lipka on


According to the Mayo Clinic, research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity, higher blood pressure, excess body fat, high cholesterol and a variety of other negative effects.

In 41 studies done on the impact of sitting on your health, all 41 came to the same conclusion: sitting is associated with a rise in all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, cardiovascular disease incidence, cancer mortality, cancer incidence and type 2 diabetes incidence.

In all studies, the lower the level of physical activity, the higher the risk of all of these diseases and incidences.

Most Americans now spend a large portion of their waking hours sitting at desks or at home watching TV.

This is a huge cultural shift from just a century ago when there were over 13 million farmer workers (out of a population of 106 million in the USA) and 80% of the workforce consisted of physical labor. Now there are only 3 million farm workers out of a population that is 3X higher and only 20% of the workforce consists of physical labor.

Number of Farms and Farm Workers in USA by decade

(Source: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Farm_Labor/fl_frmwk.php)

Most of us don’t have the luxury of switching careers and working the farm like our ancestors did 100 years ago. Even working warehouse jobs or other types of more physical intensive jobs isn’t an option as the pressure to make ends meet forces a lot of people to accept higher paying office jobs over jobs that would require more physical labor.

Because of this changing dynamic in how we work, we’re often forced to work office jobs to make ends meet, be it work from an office or work from home. Incorporating activity into our workday is vital to living a long, healthy life.

Why is Sitting Bad for Your Health?

Is Sitting Bad for Your Health?

Back Problems from Sitting Too Much

We have all probably sat too long at our desk or on our couch and gotten up to experience back tightness. Over time sitting can result in compression of the spinal disks. Because muscles are tight from pressure, sudden movements can lead to injury.

 Back Pain from Sitting Too Much

Head and Neck Problems from Sitting Too Much

Fluid retained in the legs during the day can move up to the neck at night and cause sleep apnea. When neck muscles are strained, it can lead to pain in the neck and head and can, in extreme cases, cause blood clots to form which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

Neck Pain from Sitting at Desk

Impact on Heart from Sitting Too Much

When you sit, your blood flow slows down, which allows fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels and can lead to heart disease.

People who live a sedentary lifestyle are up to twice as likely to die or develop diabetes

and heart disease as people who incorporate movement throughout their daily lives.

How to Be Healthier at Work

Standing Desk at Work

Some of us don’t have the option of working in a farm or doing more physically demanding jobs. For those of us that work in an office or at a desk, we need to make changes to our current work environment to become a more physically active one. This includes:

  1. Taking walks more often throughout the day – incorporating 2–4-minute walks every 45 minutes.
  2. Taking the stairs over the elevator if we work at an office.
  3. Walking to our office mate’s desk over sending them texts / IMs
  4. Purchasing an adjustable height standing desk
  5. Walk or bike to work
  6. Stretching twice a day
  7. Eating a lighter lunch – try switching to salads and fruits and vegetables at lunch, this will give us more energy in the afternoon so that we can continue moving

The first three options require altering your daily habits and routines. The 4th option (standing desks) is an something we can purchase today that will automatically incorporate movement into our workday.

If your company doesn’t have a reimbursement plan in place for purchasing a stand up desk, ask your HR department if they will subsidize part of the price of a sit stand desk.

CONCLUSION

It’s hard to argue with the numbers and studies. The long-term impact of sitting too much is hard to ignore. While many of us can’t avoid office work, the lowest hanging fruit that we can pick today is to incorporate standing desks – be it manual standing desks or electric standing desks – into our workday.

 

REFERENCE LIST

Here's a list of references included in the article above:

1. Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005.

2. Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults - https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/m14-1651.

3. Farm Labor: Number of Farms and Workers by Decade, USA - https://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Farm_Labor/fl_frmwk.php.

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