Human beings evolved to walk for many miles each day, but our modern lifestyles force us to remain largely sedentary.
The average person spends sits for at least nine hours per day.
In recent years, scientists have been researching the physical and psychological effects of excessive sitting. Their findings are alarming.
They show that it’s time we paid attention to how long we sit, and how to mitigate the damage.
Here’s what happens to your body and mind when you sit for too long:
1) Your muscles start to lose their tone
When you stand up, or sit with no back support, you are forced to use your abdominal muscles to maintain an upright position.
Unfortunately, most desk chairs have hard backs, meaning that your abdominal muscles don’t have to work to support your core.
Over time, this can lead to a phenomenon called “swayback,” caused by overextension of the spine.
2) Your joints become less flexible
Have you ever felt stiff and achy when getting up from your chair?
If so, you’ve been sitting for too long.
If you arthritis or another joint problem, prolonged sitting may make it worse.
3) Your cognitive performance suffers
Your brain needs a consistent supply of oxygenated blood in order to function.
When you sit down for hours at a time, your blood flow slows, and your concentration and creativity suffer as a result.
Research shows that too much sitting is linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and thinning of the medial temporal lobe, an area of the brain responsible for memory formation.
As you get older, it’s especially important to stay active.
4) Your back begins to hurt
During physical activity, the muscles in your back contract and relax.
This is important because it improves blood flow to your back discs.
Sitting for prolonged periods makes it more likely that your disks will become compacted, causing discomfort and pain.
Some people suffer herniated lumbar disks as a result of spending too much time sat at a desk.
5) Your neck and shoulder muscles start to ache
If you lean over a keyboard for long periods of time, your muscles become overextended.
Staring straight ahead, for example at a computer screen, places undue pressure on the vertebrae that connect your head and spine.
6) You are at higher risk of developing leg disorders
When you sit down, your blood pools in your legs, particularly around your ankles.
Your blood cannot circulate so freely around your body, thereby raising your risk of blood clots.
Symptoms include pain and swelling, but some people don’t experience any signs until the clot reaches their heart, where it can prove fatal. Sitting can also lead to varicose veins and spider veins, which can cause discomfort.
7) You are at elevated risk of diabetes
Weight gain is a risk factor for diabetes.
When you sit instead of stand or move around, you burn fewer calories, which in turn can cause your weight to rise.
However, this isn’t the only mechanism that explains the link between sitting and diabetes.
Although further research is needed, it seems likely that inactivity changes the way your body produces, and responds to, insulin.
8) You are at increased risk of heart disease
Scientists have found that people who sit all day are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than those with jobs that require them to move around.
In one notable study, researchers measured health outcomes in transit drivers, who have to sit down whilst at work, and conductors, who spend more time on their feet.
What’s the solution?
Getting up and stretching or taking a brief walk every half hour will keep your blood flowing and give your muscles a chance to stretch, thus mitigating many of the effects listed above.
You could also invest in a standing desk, or swap your office chair for a gym ball.
Sitting on a ball forces you to engage your core muscles, which in turn improves your strength, balance, and stability.
Finally, try to exercise for at least 60 minutes every day.
Choose an activity you enjoy, and treat it as a priority.
Even the busiest person needs to integrate exercise into their life; your health should be among your top concerns.