Are you sitting too long? The average adult spends about 50% to 70% of every day sitting, and all that sitting has some serious health consequences. We sit at the kitchen table to eat breakfast, we sit in our cars on the way to work, some of us sit for eight or more hours a day at our jobs, we sit during the drive home, then we sit at the table for dinner, and then we sit on the couch watching TV for the rest of the evening. That’s a lot of sitting. Do you really know what it’s doing to your body?
The more time you spend sitting, the greater your chances of developing back pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic makes this claim: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
Blame it on sedentary jobs and pastimes
We’re no longer a nation of farmers and agricultural workers or even active factory workers. Most of us spend most of our time at our jobs sitting. Ours is, essentially, a chair-based world — with high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Some of us try to work in some activity and exercise along the way, but that may not be enough. Even with exercise thrown in, sitting too long remains a risk factor for early death. A direct relationship has been established between the amount of time spent sitting and early-mortality risk. As the length of sitting time and total sitting time increase, so does risk of early death. For example, an 8.5-year-long study found that people who spent the most time watching TV had “a 61 percent greater risk of dying than those who watched less than one hour per day” (The Washington Post).
But the good news is that when you sit for less than 30 minutes at a stretch, your risk for early death decreases. So let’s see what sitting for too long, too often actually does to you.
The many dangers of sitting
Sitting too long and doing so too often carries with it several health hazards ranging from musculoskeletal problems to organ damage. Take a look at what can happen:
Damage to internal organs
- Heart – When you sit for long periods, your muscles work less and burn less fat, and blood flow is decreased – all of which means that fatty acids are more likely to accumulate in your arteries, a precursor to severe heart problems/damage. Sitting for long periods has also been linked to elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, both bad for your heart.
- Colon – Extended sitting also increases the risk of colon (and breast) cancer. The exact mechanism is still unclear, but the increased risk is thought to stem from lower production of free radical-killing antioxidants and increased insulin production that promotes cancer-cell growth.
- Pancreas – As you probably know, your pancreas produces insulin, which carries glucose to cells to provide energy. But when muscle cells are inactive, their insulin response is less efficient. As a result, the pancreas produces even more insulin, which can ultimately result in diabetes.
Neck and shoulder problems
- Neck – Most of the time, our sitting situation at work is less than ergonomically sound, so we wind up craning our necks or tilting our heads to see a monitor or type on a keyboard. The long-term outcome is strained and/or imbalanced cervical vertebrae.
- Shoulders and upper back – Bad posture while sitting for long periods (which is common) can lead to muscle strain and soreness in your shoulders and upper back.
Muscle tightness and degeneration
- Abs – Walking, standing, or even sitting straight brings into play your abdominal muscles to keep your torso erect. But when you sit with bad posture, usually slumping, your abs don’t do any work and so get weak, which commonly results in excessive spinal arching and back pain.
- Hips – Tight hips with limited range of motion are often a common effect of sitting too long, and decreased hip mobility is a contributor to falls, especially in the elderly.
- Glutes – Those big muscles you sit on are not used at all while you are sitting, so with prolonged sitting, they, too, get weak. This will affect walking and standing ability and stability.
- Circulation – As you would expect, prolonged sitting decreases circulation, often resulting in the pooling of fluid in the legs, which can lead to swollen ankles, varicose veins, and even blood clots.
- Bones – Because sitting is not a weight-bearing activity for the lower body, it does nothing to stimulate and maintain bone density and strength in the leg and hip bones, which increases the likelihood of osteoporosis.
- Spine – Prolonged sitting contributes to inflexibility of the spine owing to uneven pressure on discs and hardening of collagen around spinal tendons and ligaments.
- Discs – The risk of herniated lumbar discs is greatly increased for anyone who sits too long. Basically, the abdominal psoas muscle tightens and tends to pull the upper lumbar spine forward, and then weight is place unevenly on discs.
What you can do about it
Don’t lose hope, though. If you have a desk job and must sit for long periods, there are several things you can do, even at work, to decrease your chances of developing any of these conditions. You can, for example:
- Take a break every 30 minutes or so and get up and walk around
- Stand up while speaking on the phone
- Purchase or improvise a standing desk
- Try to schedule “walking meetings” to avoid sitting in a conference room for hours
- Find a way to install a walking-treadmill computer station
- Stand up and stretch your hip flexors three minutes on each side at least once a day
And then there are these easy things you can do at home:
- Sit on an unstable or wobbly object like an exercise ball (while watching TV, for instance) to force your core stabilizer muscles to do some work.
- Get up and walking around during commercials – even just a little at a slow pace does some good
- Learn and practice some yoga poses to increase blood flow and flexibility
- Watch your favorite shows at the gym while walking on the treadmill, or buy a treadmill or stair stepper for your home
- Schedule regular consistent adjustments with a trusted, knowledgeable chiropractor.
How chiropractic care can help you
As mentioned earlier, sometimes exercise just isn’t enough to counteract the adverse effects of sitting for long periods. It helps, of course, but you may also need to see a chiropractor on a regular basis in order to stay healthy when you have to work long hours at a desk job. The trick is to proactively treat these problems before they become major health issues. The immediate benefits of regular chiropractic adjustments include:
- Better spinal movement
- More uniform distribution of weight on discs
- Lessened nervous-system tension
- Better sitting posture
At Shoar Chiropractic, we want you to experience these benefits, but, ultimately, we are interested in so much more. We are committed to producing lasting results, not temporary fixes. The incorporation of advanced scientific-based nutritional supplements, postural training, and strengthening exercises makes our treatment a complete healthy living and mind-body solution. Contact us today for a free consultation!