Human beings are by design spry, bipedal mammals. Simple activities like walking to the store are necessary for keeping our blood circulating, our muscles fit, and joints working well. We all need a little down time after a hard day’s work. But sitting for long periods of time can actually chip away at some of the hard-earned benefits from exercise you’ve gained throughout the week.
The Health Risks of Sitting Too Much
Living in a culture of convenience sure has its benefits. If I’m just running five minutes behind for work, I can have a ride-share right to my doorstep and save me the few blocks walking to transit. We can check the day’s weather without even getting out of bed. But these conveniences – especially the ones that keep us sitting for hours end – come with a price. Studies have shown that even exercising seven hours a week likely will not reverse the effects of sitting for seven hours a day. You might be asking: how can this be?
Some of the negative effects of sitting too much are more evident than others. Perhaps the most obvious one is that people who regularly sit for periods of time are more likely to gain unwanted weight than those who don’t. Have you ever noticed your back hurts after sitting for too long? That’s not a good sign! Proper posture while sitting is necessary for good back health, but not sitting for long hours on end is just as important. Research shows that varicose veins can be yet another negative symptom of sitting too long.
However, the real threat to your health from sitting too much is internal. After all, a sore back is at least a reminder it needs to be stretched out! A study from the American Cancer Society links too much sitting time with shortened life expectancy. In worst cases, a habit of sitting too much can lead to a higher likelihood of colon, endometrial (lining of the uterus), or lung cancer. In brain studies, test subjects’ brains can shown tendencies similar to those with dementia. Sitting too much has also been linked to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Stay Active to Reverse the Effects of Sitting All Day
What on earth can be done to reverse the side-effects of too much sitting? A regular exercise routine is an excellent beginning. If you already hit the gym regularly, there are specific exercises you can incorporate into your routine. Since your core is naturally less engaged in the sitting position, core exercises such as planks, flutter kicks and V-ups go a long way in helping your lower back and abs stay lean. Sitting too much also causes your hip flexors to shorten and contract, which makes lunges, fire hydrants and squats also excellent exercises to do daily. Last, since too much sitting stiffens the neck and shoulders, exercises such as rows, dumbbell shrugs, push-ups and high planks are excellent activities to stretch it all out.
For many people, sitting for hours is a job requirement. If you are a desk jockey, it may take some creativity to limit your long periods of sitting time. Consider incorporating a walk break into your coffee break routine. If you have the leverage, you can ask your boss about getting a desk that elevates your computer screen so you can do some work while standing. Set a timer every 30 minutes that reminds you stand up and stretch things out. If you work from home, lucky you! Regular yoga mini-breaks is a perfect way to keep your limbs well lubricated and your joints smiling.
Sitting is a part of our daily life, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Some well-earned downtime on our keyster after a hard day’s work is nothing to be ashamed of. But just be mindful that too much sitting can cause serious health risks. Giving up television altogether is not necessary, but maybe walking around the room for a quarter of the episode can help you take care of those mundane tasks about the house as well as keep your circulation healthy. Get creative! Your body does depend on a fair amount of movement to stay healthy.