Modern science has shown that a lot of commonplace practices in the past actually have serious consequences. One of the best examples of this is smoking. As a former cultural staple, you once couldn’t go anywhere without seeing smoking in movies and ads. Today, smoking’s linked to major diseases, like heart disease. Despite this, still almost 20 percent of Americans still smoke.1,2 Is sitting all day the new smoking?
Whether it’s for work or to watch TV, some believe sedentary lifestyles have heavy costs. Sitting all day at work, for example, means less physical activity. Some potential consequences are easy to understand, like obesity. Some are harder to link, like cardiovascular disease. Is sitting all day the new smoking? The answer is more complex than you may think.
How Could Sitting All Day Hurt You?
With smoking, you’re introducing harmful substances into your body. But with sitting, you’re not inhaling dangerous chemicals. You’re just … sitting.
But, can it harm your health?
There isn’t one simple answer here. A body sitting for long periods of time undergoes several different changes. One good example is posture. Good posture is important. But it’s difficult to maintain it for an entire typical workday. You may find yourself slouching forward to read those last few e-mails before you make a dash for the door. Poor posture can overextend muscles in the back and shoulders. It can also strain cervical vertebrae in the neck. Over time, your muscles may also degenerate from lack of physical activity. For example, your abdominal muscles keep you upright when you sit. But, slumping in a chair means they don’t get used. As a result, this exacerbates posture problems.3
Sitting for long periods of time may have even more serious detrimental effects. Several studies associate prolonged sitting with early mortality. To be clear, excessive sitting isn’t the cause of major illness. But research suggests people who sit for more than eight hours a day show a greater incidence of dying from certain health conditions.4,5
There is one added detail here that could add cause for concern. Several studies on the effects of prolonged sitting account for regular physical activity. This means even if you’re hitting the gym often, if you’re sitting a lot, you may still be at risk.6
Effects of Sitting All Day – Taking A Closer Look
The surge of studies on the effects of sitting has led to a lot of changes. Some offices encourage standing desks, for example. Before you buy a standing desk of your own, you may want to look at the science on the subject. As of right now, while studies have been done, the jury is out overall. The overall scientific conclusion is that standing at work isn’t bad for you. What isn’t as clear is if it can help you. The main appeal of standing desks is the reduction of sitting they allow during your day instead.8 It’s known that sitting for long periods of time does cause some bodily changes. Standing desks can help limit this, and this is where its benefits lie. One interesting thread about sitting regards metabolism.
There are many reasons you want to get moving, instead of sitting for hours at a time. For one, moving your muscles helps boost your metabolism. Metabolism is how the body digests the fats and sugars you eat. Eating too many sugary and processed foods can be more than your metabolism can handle. Sitting too much may lead to these fats and sugars staying in the body.7 This leads to weight gain, and possibly metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome can especially be problematic. This is because it is actually a cluster of several conditions. These include obesity, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.9
It’s clear that sitting affects the body. But the type of sitting you’re doing may be important.
One study compared sitting and doing homework versus sitting and watching TV. The purpose of the study was to see if any major health issues developed, and how they correlated with sitting. The only association was a weak one with glucose control issues. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that sitting causes any conditions.10
Two other studies regarding diabetes and sitting showed more of a link. There is one major caveat, though. They only applied to regular sitters who were physically inactive or physically inactive and obese.11,12
Minimizing the Health Risks of Sitting All Day?
Whether you sit for long stretches at home or at work, try and find ways to break things up. One study suggests doing something as simple as standing or walking once an hour may help offset sitting’s negative effects on the body. Think of it as giving your body a break from sitting.13 Get up and stretch a bit every hour. If you’re at work, take a stroll around the office. Or go outside for a few minutes. At home, get up and do some household chores.
The benefits, according to clinical studies, of taking a quick break to move around or stretch include:
- Increased IQ
- Boosts focus and concentration
- Optimizes your brain functions
- Improves circulation to lower extremities
Sitting All Day & Your Health: In Review
While the long term effects of prolonged sitting are still being studied, it’s always a good idea to keep your body moving. The benefits of regular exercise are exponential. So, get up and get moving, no matter how long you’re sitting each day.