Your body is designed to move. But over time, perhaps you’ve started sitting–and stopped moving–more than you should.
Thousands of years ago, humans were forced to move – they had to leave their caves to hunt for food to survive. Modern conveniences changed all that. Now, you may spend an increasing amount of your time sitting at a desk, driving to and from work, and spread out on the sofa at night after a long day, bingeing on the latest streamable offerings. Frankly, it’s not healthy behavior.
More and more research points to the fact that those who live a more sedentary life tend to encounter the most health problems as they age. In fact, research has shown that physical inactivity or immobility – such as years spent sitting at a desk in an office job – may seriously jeopardize your heart health, joint health, and bone health.1
That “cushy” desk job is not doing your body any favors.
How Do Long Periods of Sitting Create Immobility Issues?
Here are some of the ways prolonged sitting can start to affect your natural ability to move freely and easily:
1. It Can Waste Your Leg Muscles
Long-term sitting can weaken your leg and gluteal muscles (your butt muscles). These muscles are super important for both walking and balance. Stability and mobility are essential as you age as they can protect you from debilitating falls – and allow you to be more physically active well into your golden years.
2. It Can Play Havoc with Your Hips and Back
Sitting in a chair for long stretches of time encourages bad posture, and it may also shorten your hip flexor muscles – which can lead to hip joint problems. Your body isn’t designed to slouch. Slouching actually makes your muscles work harder, and it can lead to back problems, including degenerative conditions.
Just like your legs, your hips and back are a huge part of your body’s mobility system – ask anyone who’s ever suffered from chronic back pain or had to have a hip replaced.
3. It Can Leave You With a Stiff Upper Body
Bad posture from sitting too long can also cause big problems in your neck and shoulders. Hunching over a desk for long periods promotes stiffness in these areas, and this can prevent you from being able to do a full range of physical activities.2
But I Exercise A Lot… I’m Not Sedentary!
You work out 4-5 times a week, and you consider yourself fit and healthy. You’re doing your best to make exercise a priority around those long office hours. Surely, you have nothing to worry about, right?
A new study by the American Heart Association has determined that sedentary issues may be determined specifically by the time you spend not moving. Vigorous, healthy physical activity may not cancel out the negative effects of long periods spent sitting. The AHA recommends putting your focus on reducing the amount of time you sit, rather than just increasing your physical activity.3
Another similar study found that you would need to exercise 60-75 minutes every day, at a moderate intensity, to reduce the risk associated with sitting for long periods.4
But, do you want to hear some good news?
Another study found that taking a “movement break” every 30 minutes could be your saving grace. After sitting for 30 minutes, get up and move, ideally for a solid five minutes, and at a brisk pace, if you can.5
It’s Not Just About Your Desk Job
How often do you find yourself coming home from an exhausting day at the office, only to plop down on the couch for a 3-4 hour stretch of TV viewing? Sure, it might feel relaxing, but do you really know what that immobility is doing to you?
A study that looked specifically at the older population found an alarming connection between “sedentary time” and immobility. This long-term study followed adults aged 50 to 71 for up to a decade. The findings: those who tended to sit the most, and engaged in the least amount of physical activity, had more than three times the risk of having problems walking by the end of the study. In fact, some ended up unable to walk at all.
In this particular study, adults who reported engaging in more than 7 hours of physical activity a week, and no more than 6 hours of sitting per day, showed no negative effects from that sitting.
Researchers zeroed in on television viewing as the biggest problem among sedentary older adults.
They also found that while younger people seemed better able to rebound from prolonged sitting by working out, middle-aged adults struggled.
Though this study was published in 2018, the period over which it examined the subjects was between the mid-1990s into the early 2000s – well before the onslaught of online streaming TV and the huge increase in available content that it has brought with it. And this is rather alarming.6
Keep Moving, Even with a Desk Job
Realistically, most people can’t afford to just switch careers on a dime. So, let’s explore how you can take better care of your body, and your long-term mobility, when you must work in an office environment – even a home office.
- If you can, alternate between sitting and standing while you work. This is easiest if you have a computer or laptop stand with changeable heights.
- Try taking a 3-minute break every 30 minutes to walk around the office. Set your phone alarm to remind you.
- If someone wants to talk to you about a project, greet them by standing. Or suggest that you both get outside and walk around the block while you discuss it.
- Form a habit of doing simple stretching movements – whether you’re seated or standing.
- Talk to HR about sit-stand workstations and the health advantages of the office investing in them.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator – every time.
- Walk over and visit your colleagues, rather than email them.
- Take a brief walk during your lunch break.
- Set a timer to limit your after-work TV viewing.
- Take a walk around the block with your family before or after dinner each evening.
- Get off public transport a stop or two earlier, and walk the rest of the way to work.
- Walk around your office while you talk on your cell phone.
Again: The human body was designed to move.
It’s a simple statement and a wake-up call – especially if you lead a sedentary life. Yes, you’re tired and overworked. You sit to find peace, to conserve energy, and to relax. But you need to remember that too much sitting, especially at a desk job, day after day, can greatly affect your health.
Physical activity can help you boost your energy and clear your head. If you want to reduce the risk of immobility later in your life, now is the time to start moving. Like anything in life, the more you do it, the more it becomes a habit.
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