‘Globesity’ is a catch phrase coined by the Medical fraternity to indicate that obesity is the new global epidemic. Obesity is caused by various factors, one of them being a sedentary lifestyle. A prominent characteristic of a sedentary lifestyle is prolonged hours of sitting, which could be due to one’s nature of work, or personal preference.
Research has shown that sitting for long hours triggers various ailments and lifestyle-related disorders to an extent that sitting is now equated to smoking. As early as 1950s, a study conducted in London showed that bus drivers were 1.5 times more at risk than bus conductors. Research, since then, has unearthed various dangers of sitting.
Movement is very important for human health as it keeps the muscles active, digests the food (glucose) consumed, burns the fat and in general keeps the metabolism going. Sitting has the opposite effect, which means, your metabolism slows down, and you tend to put on weight. Studies have shown that standing one hour burns 50 calories more than if you were doing the same activity sitting.
Hunching over a computer screen or a mobile screen puts pressure on the neck and shoulders causing pain and stiff neck. Texting or reading off a mobile with the head bent down is known to trigger a condition called postural kyphosis.
- Back, lower back and hips
Back pain is one of the most common ailments worldwide, with poorly-designed chairs and a wrong sitting posture being the most common reason. Sitting for long hours puts 90% more pressure on the lower back than sitting. Combined with poor posture, this can trigger compression of your discs leading to their premature degeneration or intense pain. Sitting also causes the flexor muscles in the hip to compress leading to pain and weakened hip joints.
Sitting for long hours reduces usage of the leg muscles leading to weakened legs. People with weakened legs are more likely to suffer injuries from falls and accidents. Sitting also causes spider veins, a milder version of varicose veins, which comes with the risk of blood clots in these veins. In a condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis, the blood clot travels through the body and can enter the brain, where it causes a brain stroke, or the lungs where it causes pulmonary embolism, both of which are life-threatening.
- Heart and Cardiovascular health
Dr. James Levine, a Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic is considered an authority on the dangers of sitting. In a study conducted by him, people who watched TV or mobile screens for more than 4 hours a day were compared with those who did the same 2 hours a day. The former group were 50% more likely to die from any disease and had 125% more risk from cardiovascular diseases such as angina and heart attack.
A study conducted at Alberta Health Services & Cancer Care at Canada documented the number of cancer cases in the US, which were primary due to inactivity or sitting. The study showed that people who sit for long periods of time are more likely to develop cancer of the colon, breast, lung, prostate, ovaries or endometrium compared to people who move around frequently. C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation, was found to be in higher concentration in sitters,and could be triggering various changes that induce cancer.
A study conducted at the Imperial College of London showed that chronic sitters were poor at metabolizing body sugars and fats. This put them at a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes than people who move frequently. A study conducted at University of Queensland, Australia showed that chronic sitters had a higher count of triglycerides, which is a risk factor for diabetes.
Just like people who exercise regularly, those who move frequently show higher levels of happiness hormones such as endorphin, serotonin and dopamine. Chronic sitters miss out on such and other benefits making them more prone to anxiety and depression.
Tips to Reduce sitting
Interestingly, regularly exercising does not make up for the risks of sitting, which is why it’s important to make adjustments to one’s lifestyle to reduce sitting.
At the workplace, you could have a sit & stand desk which helps you move the desk up or down helping you to stand and work. You could walk up the stairs, walk across to talk to a colleague, or walk in the conference room while talking on the phone.
Both at home and workplace, you could do a whole lot of exercises and walk around often, in addition to doing small chores while standing.
Sooner or later, such adjustments to your lifestyle are inevitable if you must avoid the health risks that come from prolonged sitting.