What happens when you sit all day?
You've seen the flat line on an ECG, when all the doctors rush in? That's what's happening to your leg muscles when you're sitting. More than half of us spend over six hours sitting down every day, and a widening rear end isn’t the only result. Sitting can have short and long-term effects on your health and body, making this seemingly benign activity potentially deadly.
1. Weak Legs and Glutes
If you don’t use them, you lose them! By sitting all day, you’re not depending on your powerful lower body muscles to hold you up. This leads to muscle atrophy, which is the weakening of these muscles. Without strong leg and glute muscles to stabilize you, your body is at risk of injury.
2. Weight Gain
Moving causes your muscles to release molecules like lipoprotein lipase, which helps process the fats and sugars you eat. When you spend most of your day sitting, the release of these molecules is lessened and weight gain becomes inevitable.
3. Tight Hips and a Bad Back
As with your leg and glute muscles, your hips and back will suffer from sitting. Sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten, and your seated position can also hurt your back, particularly if you have bad posture or don’t use an ergonomic chair. Also, poor posture while sitting can cause compression on the discs in your spine which can result in chronic pain.
4. Stiff Shoulders and Neck
As with your legs, butt and lower back, your shoulders and neck will also suffer from prolonged sitting. This is especially true if you're hunched over looking at a computer screen.
5. Anxiety and Depression
Lesser understood than some of the physical effects of sitting, are the mental effects. But the risk of both depression and anxiety are higher in people who sit the most. This could be because the mental health benefits of fitness are lacking when one spends their days sitting down rather than moving. If so, these risks could be mitigated with regular exercise.
6. Other Major Health Risks
Links have also been made to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Sounds pretty bad huh?!
So... get moving!
Fortunately, the remedy is simple: avoid sitting for too long each day and get more movement into your life. The key is to exert your body against gravity.
While just about any movement will do, weight-bearing exercises are beneficial and suitable for most people regardless of fitness level, as is yoga. In addition, standing up as much as possible, preferably with a stand up desk, will greatly facilitate your ability to replicate ancestral movement patterns (ie. much more movement).
As a consequence of sitting, your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and toxic buildup all rise. The solution to these adverse events do not involve a prescription - all you need to do is get up, and avoid sitting down as much as possible. Since many of us live lives that revolve around an office chair, a car seat and the couch, most will need to figure out how to eliminate many hours of sitting every day. As a general starting guideline, try standing up for at least 10 minutes each hour. If you've been sitting down for a full hour, you've sat too long. Think about getting a getting a standing desk - these are becoming more and more popular as people realise how much better it is for your health.
Make Walking a Part of Your Daily Routine
It's recommended to stand up and do exercises at your desk every 10-15 minutes to counteract the ill effects of sitting, however that's probably still insufficient. The answer really is to stand up as much as possible. Standing for 10 minutes for every hour of sitting is really the bare minimum. It would be wiser to strive to sit as little as possible - less than three hours a day would be a really healthy target, but would likely take some time to build up to.
Sitting less can dramatically help to alleviate persistent back pain - a major issue for much of the population.
The combination of high intensity exercise, low intensity activities like walking 7-10,000 steps a day, and avoiding sitting whenever possible, is the key to optimal fitness and enjoying a pain-free, joyful life. It is recommended to walk in addition to your regular fitness programme, not as a replacement for it. But if you're currently doing nothing in terms of fitness, walking is certainly a great place to start!
Fitness trackers can be a helpful way to keep track of your daily activity, with some models having the added advantage to record how much you're sleeping. This can help motivate you to get to bed earlier and get as close to the magic number of 8 hours of sleep as possible. Having good sleep habits really is huge in terms of positive benefits - it boosts your immune system, manages weight loss, and helps to retain memory.
Powerful Yoga Moves
Yoga is another form of exercise in which you're exerting yourself against gravity. And while it's certainly great for increasing flexibility, its benefits do not end there. Yoga also helps condition muscle, build strength, improve muscle tone and increases range of motion. In short, it promotes overall body health. Evidence also suggests it can help improve heart health by reducing known risk factors for heart disease, such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Get a Massage
This can be one of the most effective things of all. Massage can treat every muscle group to the point of increasing performance noticeably as well as relieving pain. I’ve experienced it first hand being both a client and a therapist and there is nothing like it.