In today’s culture of work, work, work, it’s not unusual to spend the majority of your day sitting down. We don’t even think twice about it. However, a sedentary lifestyle like this is incredibly damaging to your health — some might even say deadly.
This is no exaggeration. Let’s talk about exactly what happens to your body when you spend too much time sitting.
6 Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle
1. Your Muscles Become Weaker
When you don’t use your muscles, they stop wanting to do their job. It’s simple.
Sitting puts you in a position where you don’t need to actively engage important muscle groups like your glutes and quads. This is exacerbated if you have the tendency to slouch, which means that you also aren’t engaging your core — the group of muscles largely responsible for helping you sit up straight.
Reduced use of these muscles leads to atrophy, and then you’re dealing with another problem entirely.
This is one of the many benefits of standing desks. When you spend more time standing (with correct posture, of course), your muscles have no choice but to engage to help keep you upright.
2. Tight Muscles Leads to Compromised Mobility
Imagine, for a moment, what your muscles and skeleton look like when you sit. Your quads/femurs are at a 90-degree angle to your core. This means that your hip flexors tighten since they’re in a shortened position.
When your hip flexors tighten, your lower back beings to arch and you stick your bottom out, leading to the dreaded anterior pelvic tilt.
If you’re slouching, with your shoulders slumped forward, your pectoral muscles shorten, similar to what your hip flexors are doing.
Now, guess what happens when you try to do kipping pull-ups with a body like this? Or throw a barbell overhead? Guess what happens when you try to simply bring the groceries in?
This sedentary lifestyle has led to severely compromised mobility. And poor mobility is one of the main causes of injury. With such a shaky, unreliable foundation, you’re in the perfect position to suffer from anything from annoying strains to full-blown injuries.
3. Your Mental Health Takes a Hit
It’s not just your body that takes a beating from a sedentary lifestyle; your mental health does, too.
Some research suggests that sitting for more than six hours a day in the workplace can increase your risk of mental health problems like anxiety and depression, compared to people who sit for three hours or less a day.
Other research from University College London echoes similar sentiments, finding that in adolescents, sedentary behavior is associated with increased risks of depressive symptoms.
It doesn’t start and end with depression and anxiety. These can lead to a whole host of other issues, like reduced productivity and motivation, trouble sleeping, and hormonal imbalances.
We’re not telling you to get up in the middle of the workday and run a marathon. Remember that it can be as simple as walking a lap around the office, pacing the sidewalk outside for a few minutes, or walking to your coworker’s office instead of calling or emailing them.
4. A Sedentary Lifestyle Can Damage Your Nerves
People who sit a lot often complain of back pain. This is for a few reasons, one of which is that excessive sitting can wreak havoc on your nerves.
When you sit too much, your muscles begin to pinch and pull on the nerves around them, especially if you have poor posture. This is what ultimately results in that pain.
Furthermore, excessive sitting can increase your blood pressure, causing damage to your arteries and nerves. (It can also lead to heart failure, stroke, and heart disease.)
It’s a vicious cycle, too. Sitting hurts your circulation. If you already have nerve pain, sitting will only make your circulation worse, which then makes the nerve pain more noticeable. The reduced blood flow and lack of nutrients and oxygen mean increased tingling and numbness.
Factor into that the fact that sitting puts 40% to 90% more pressure on your back than standing does, and you have a recipe for disaster.
5. You Have an Increased Risk of Diabetes — and Even Death
One wouldn’t assume that there’d even be a connection between excessive sitting and diabetes, but the numbers don’t lie.
A Dutch study found that people with type 2 diabetes were sitting for a half-hour more each day. After further analysis, they learned that just an additional hour of sitting a day can increase your chance of developing diabetes by a startling 22%.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Other studies have found that inactivity of more than three hours a day can cut two years of life off. Yes, too much sitting can actually shorten your lifespan.
6. You Run a Higher Risk of Developing Certain Kinds of Cancer
Again, the connection here seems unlikely, but it’s true. One study that looked at more than four million people and 68,936 cases of cancer found that sitting for extended periods of time might increase your risk of colon, endometrial, and lung cancer by 66%.
Exercise Doesn’t Undo the Damage of a Sedentary Lifestyle
“That’s okay. I’ll just work out a little bit longer.” This is a common response from people who know they just spent too much of their day sitting.
Here’s the problem, though: More and more research is finding that exercise will not undo the damages of sitting. The only solution is a simple one. Sit less.
We know that this can be challenging if you work in a traditional office setting. It goes without saying that a standing desk is a worthwhile investment. However, if you’re not in the place to purchase one, know that you have options. For instance, there are extenders and trays you can buy that you set on your normal desk so you can work in a standing position.
And, if nothing else, set a timer for every 30 to 45 minutes to remind yourself to get up and move. Do a few stretches, go for a walk, do something to move your body, stretch your muscles, and get your blood flowing.
If the effects of a sedentary lifestyle are troubling you, learn how to relieve chronic back pain.
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