Do you know how many hours we spend sitting each day?
Spoiler alert: it’s usually 9. And this doesn’t include the hours we spend sleeping. Let’s consider the impact that sitting for 9 hours a day has on our bodies.
In the 1950s, an experiment was carried out to investigate the health differences between bus drivers and bus conductors. The results were startling. Bus drivers, who spent most of their workday sitting, were twice as likely to have a heart attack as conductors who, by contrast, stood for most of the day. It was discovered that sitting for prolonged periods slowed the metabolism, thereby affecting the body’s capacity to control blood sugar and pressure.
At this point you might be thinking this isn’t you. Yes, you spend the majority of your workday at a desk, but you’re generally healthy and physically active, and so there is no cause for concern. We strongly encourage you to think again. Think about the time you spend travelling to and from work. Think about that hour or two you might spend watching your favourite TV series. Think about your lunch break, your dinner time. It all adds up.
The human body was not designed for this much sitting. And even if you do exercise every day, the chances are it’s not enough. Dr T. Katzmarzyk explains:
‘Even within physically active individuals, there was a strong association between sitting and risk mortality. This is an important observation because it suggests that high amounts of sitting cannot be compensated for with occasional leisure time physical activity even if the amount exceeds the current minimum physical activity recommendations.’
It’s hard to believe that such a simple, mundane action can cause such harm to our bodies. But the fact is: it does. ‘We are made up of 360 joints and over 700 muscles that move your skeleton. Our vascular and nervous system depends on movement to function’, states Mohamed Taha, clinical director at Form Clinic.
In his book, ‘Get Up’, Dr James Levine explores the adverse impacts excessive sitting has on us:
- Posture problems
Back: Sitting exerts more strain on your spine than standing does. The discs in your back should enlarge and contract when you move for optimum blood and nutrition absorption. When we spend hours on end slouching, these discs get squeezed and eventually lose flexibility, inevitably leading to permanently bad posture.
Neck and shoulders: ‘The average person is not able to sit down for more than three minutes without falling into a slumped or slouched posture’, Mohamed Taha explains. Consistent slouching strains the cervical vertebrae in your neck and will also result in chronic imbalances, leading to stiff shoulders and a sore back. We are almost certain you have experienced this after a long day at work.
- Legs and hips
Muscle Degeneration: ‘If you don’t use them, you’ll lose them’. Our lower body muscles do not need to support us when we are sitting. The longer we go without using these muscles, the more they will thin and waste away: this is called muscle atrophy. The risk of injury is significantly increased with muscle atrophy.
Varicose Veins: Sitting reduces blood flow to our legs, which eventually leads to spider veins. If that's not enough, it can also result in ankle swelling and deep vein thrombosis blood clots (DVT), which is a serious health concern.
- Brain damage
Slumping in a chair for long periods slows blood circulation, meaning the brain doesn’t receive as much oxygenated blood as it should. Not only does this reduce brain activity, but also leads to a drop in endorphin levels. Therefore it’s not enough to say that sitting only damages our physical health; our mental well-being is threatened too.
It’s a universally-known fact, but it’s worth reiterating: you cannot lose weight if you do not exercise. Being chair-bound affects a person's energy expenditure since fewer calories are burned and the body's primary muscle groups aren't being used. This eventually results in weight gain and, in extreme circumstances, obesity.
The body's sensitivity to insulin is also reduced when we are slumped in front of a computer all day. Insulin is a hormone which helps transport glucose from the blood into cells where it can be utilised for energy. This means it can be very hard for our bodies to regulate blood sugars.
- Cancer risk
Research indicates that prolonged sitting may contribute to your chances of developing some malignancies, such as lung cancer. Specific causes for this aren’t yet known, but because slouching compresses the body, it leaves less room for lungs to expand when we breathe. Your risk of uterine and colon cancer may also be raised.
‘Too many of us are tied to our desks, and research shows that this could be increasing our risk of developing heart diseases’, claims Chris Allen, senior cardiac nurse at the BHF.
A 2010 study identified a 125% increase in the chance of cardiovascular disease in a group spending more time sitting, and a 46% rise in the risk of death from other causes. The human body is built to be vertical: the heart functions most efficiently this way. Being chair-bound for long periods deactivates lipoprotein, an enzyme critical for breaking down fats in blood vessels and preventing blockages from occurring in heart arteries.
- Loneliness and Depression
The reason you sit all day is most likely that you predominantly spend your time on a computer. If you aren’t careful, this can usurp all other means of communication. Over time, your social circle may shrink and you will begin to experience feelings of loneliness and despair. Additionally, spending all day at a desk means less time outside in the sunshine, inevitably resulting in a Vitamin D deficiency.
Stand up for your wellbeing today. For more information including ways to combat a sedentary lifestyle, check out the blogs on our website.