Living a Sedentary Lifestyle? Beware the Dangers of Sitting

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Young woman sitting on a sofa could be leading a sedentary lifestyle
A lot of us spend a lot of time doing sedentary work or being couch potatoes at home. [photo: Julie Johnson |]

Let’s face it: we’ve become a society of sitters. A lot of us spend a lot of time sitting on the job or leading a sedentary lifestyle. Trouble is, we were born to be active and all that inactivity can lead to serious health issues over time.

When we sit for long periods (generally six hours or more), it affects the entire body. Metabolizing sugars and fat slows down and brain function changes because of the lack of circulation.

The medical community has a name for sitting too much. They call it sitting disease. While it’s not (yet) recognized as a diagnosable disease, prolonged sitting can lead to an increased risk of other diseases.

Dangers of Sitting

Here’s a few facts about your sedentary lifestyle that might make you, well, sit up (or even better, stand up) and take notice:

Global studies show we sit an average 7.7 hours per day (some might say more). Add another 7 hours of sleep and that works out to a minimum of nearly 15 hours a day that we’re sedentary.

The risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking if you sit most of the day, according to the Mayo Clinic. A National Institute of Health study found an interesting exception. Women aged 50+ who walked seven hours a week or ran four to five hours over the same period didn’t show an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Calories burn at a rate of only one per hour when sitting. Compare that to the activity chart that measures how many calories you burn when active.

Enzymes that help break down fat drop 90 percent. Good cholesterol decreases by 20 percent after only two hours of sitting.

Women who lead a sedentary lifestyle can also run the risk of developing a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs), especially if they take oral contraceptives.

Not to mention, sitting for long periods of time can take a toll on your muscles. Neck, lower back, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles all tighten up as a result. That can lead to health issues affecting your physical flexibility and mobility.

What to do at Home

Multi-task while watching TV. You don’t really watch commercials, do you? Well, except maybe for the ones during Super Bowl. Otherwise, there’s likely a hundred-and-one quick and active things you can do while the Trivago guy is on.

Get a hobby. Whatever interest you want to develop, try to make it an active hobby like gardening or dog walking or even theatre improv.

Join a team sport. Or find a buddy with a similar interest in getting more fit. It’ll keep you energized and you’ll be each other’s cheerleader.

What to do at Work

Get up and walk around. It only takes 5-10 minutes of movement each hour you sit to combat the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.

Walk over to your colleague’s office instead of emailing. Take the stairs. Stand when you’re using the phone. Get away from your desk for lunch and to take breaks.

Do desk stretches. Practice simple stretches several times each day and you’ll notice the difference it makes. Pay attention to your posture, too.

guide to combating your sedentary lifestyle with posture exercises

Office Posture Matters: An Animated Guide

Use a sit-stand desk. Back and neck pain are two of the most common ailments reported by anyone who sits continually.

Standing can significantly help relieve such symptoms, according to studies. On the other hand, standing for too long can be detrimental, so the bottom line is to listen to your body.

Stand Up to Your Sedentary Lifestyle

Sitting has become so normal in our culture – a default position as one medical researcher put it – that we don’t think twice about it. But when you do, give yourself a standing ovation (then move)!

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