Everyone these days knows that smoking cigarettes is harmful to your health, but what people don’t know is that sitting for long periods of time is just as harmful to your body. Sitting is the new “smoking” which means that you are choosing to do something that is more harmful than helpful to your body. Several studies are showing the negative effects of sitting, including increased risk of dying in people who watched more than 1-2 hours of TV a day.
Sitting for long periods of time during work, watching hours of TV shows or movies at night, surfing the internet, reading books, hobbies that require sitting, the list can go on and on for why we sit too much. Our current culture has become one where sitting for a few hours to up to 16 hours a day is common. The problem with hours of sitting is that our body was not made to sit, we were made to move. So why is sitting so bad and how does it negatively affect us?
Let’s start with physical problems that occur with too much sitting. Most of us slouch when we sit and don’t use proper posture. This slouched sitting puts our spine in a C-shaped curve instead of maintain our natural curvatures. When we sit for long periods of time in a C-shaped position this causes our spine to be inflexible and susceptible to damage. Some of the damage includes tightening up your hip muscles, weakens your abdominal and buttock muscles, over stretching your back muscles which puts pressure on spinal discs and nerves causing long term damage even leading to herniated discs. Slouched sitting also tightens your shoulders causing them to round forward and pull on your neck muscles leading to a forward head position and causing pressure on your neck bones and nerves.
Our internal organs also suffer when we sit for long periods of time. We get less blood flow to the brain when sitting as compared to walking or standing, which means less oxygen to our most important part of the body causing us to be sluggish, tired, even slowing brain function. This decreased blood flow in our body puts us at risk for heart disease. When muscles aren’t moving constantly then fat isn’t being broken down so the fat has higher chances of causing clots and blockages in your arteries. Sitting for prolonged periods of time is shown to lead to other severe diseases such as increases in diabetes, greater risk for colon cancer, breast and endometrial cancers. Sitting also promotes osteoporosis due to a lack of bone strengthening that comes from weight bearing activities.
So what are the alternatives to sitting? Alternating between sitting and standing is the best. There are several new adjustable work stations available that offer both sitting and standing positions. Take breaks from sitting during commercials or between shows and walk around your house. Try sitting on a more unstable surface such as an exercise ball, this will usually encourage you to sit with proper posture and use your core muscles which is much better than slouched sitting. Other suggestions include trying to kneel on a pillow for short periods of time to stretch out your hip muscles. Doing some gentle yoga during the day to keep muscles loose and stretched out is very beneficial. Just remember to keep moving and the goal is to not sit for longer than 30 minutes without taking a break for movement!