The staggering amount of time many of us spend being sedentary—up to 15 hours a day if we work in an office, according to one study—can lead to problems inside and out.
You’re probably familiar with the aches and pains caused by hunching over a computer, but spending too much time in a chair or slumped on the sofa also has been linked to several life-threatening conditions, including blood clots, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, and cancer.
Not even your brain is spared. In April 2018, researchers published a study that found an association between sedentary behaviour and thinning of the regions of the brain that are critical to memory formation
The issue with sitting goes beyond concern about obesity, although being overweight can increase the risk of many of the same conditions linked to sitting too much.
And yes, clocking so many hours in your seat can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight, “When you’re sitting, you’re burning only half the calories you would standing or walking lightly,” says David A. Alter, MD, PhD, chair of cardiovascular and metabolic research at the UHN-Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
The health effects of sitting too much
Sitting as much as many of us do increases our chance for some 35 serious conditions, likely because getting up and moving around is key for regulating proteins, genes, and other systems that lower our susceptibility to disease. Given below are the health hazards of prolonged sitting.
The more you sit at work, the greater your risk, even if you exercise, a study in Mental Health and Physical Activity found. On the flip side, other research shows that the more people move throughout the day, the happier they are.
Back and neck pain
Just four hours of sitting can compress a key disc in your lower back, says Gregory Billy, MD, associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Penn State University. Poor posture can also lead to disc problems in your neck.
Risk of colon and endometrial cancer goes up even after accounting for exercise, possibly due to inflammation, weight gain, and other changes. One review in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that for every additional two hours per day spent sitting, risk jumps 8 percent and 10 percent for colon cancer and endometrial cancer respectively.
Obesity, diabetes, and heart trouble
Yes, you burn fewer calories sitting, but also the hormone insulin’s ability to move glucose out of blood and into cells may decline when you sit for long periods, Dr. Alter says. Cholesterol and markers of inflammation may go up; how you metabolize fat changes; and vascular function may be reduced.
Weight-bearing exercise, including standing and walking, stresses your skeleton in a good way, signalling specialized cells to replace old bone tissue with new. When you sit too much, the body replaces less of what it loses, leading to fragile bones and a greater risk of osteoporosis, especially as you get older.
Slow blood flow in the legs from a sedentary lifestyle, possibly along with lower levels of clot-preventing proteins, increases your risk. Women who sat for more than 40 hours per week had more than double the risk of a clot moving to their lungs compared with those who sat less than 10 hours.
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