Can Sitting Too Much Kill You?
Lifestyles in America have really changed. Modern conveniences and electronics promise to make our lives easier and connect us to more people, entertainment, and information. But these conveniences have given us a more sedentary lifestyle.
Children spend their playtime watching TV, texting, on the internet, or playing video games when they used to be outside playing. More and more of us work sitting at a desk instead of a job that requires moving around, standing, or walking. Then, we come home and sit some more as we watch TV, or access the internet.
It’s amazing to realize that the average person with a desk job is sitting down more hours each day (9.3 hours) than we spend sleeping (7.7 hours), when you combine the time you spend sitting at work with the time you spend sitting at home.
How Dangerous is Sitting to Your Health?
- Higher Risk of Heart Disease
- Greater Risk of Diabetes
- Premature Death
Today, according to the Mayo Clinic, 24 chronic diseases and health conditions have now been associated with a simple act most of us are guilty of every day — excessive sitting! We have now learned that within 90 seconds of getting up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol system, which are mediated by insulin, become activated. These cellular processes also push the fuels into the cells of our bodies. Some of you may have already realized that the 10 most important minutes to be up and moving are right after you eat! Getting up and moving around will signal your body to use the food for fuel instead of just storing it as fat. It has been demonstrated that breaking up every hour of sitting with around 10 minutes of activity will prevent the continuous buildup of glucose that follows every meal we have.
The University of South Carolina conducted a study with 7744 men and found that men who spent more than 23 hours a week sitting in their cars and watching TV had a 64% greater risk of dying for heart disease than men who sat for only 11 hours a week or less. One of the interest things points this study brought out was is didn’t make much difference whether they worked out or not. Their workouts were not enough to overcome the health penalties of sitting too much.
A study in 2010 published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found the when healthy men limited their number of footsteps by 85% over a 2-week period, their insulin sensitivity decreased by 17% — raising their risk for diabetes.
A study covering the time period from 1980 to 2000 by the University of Minnesota in 2006 found that although the percentage of people who exercise remained constant, the amount of time people were sitting went up by 8%.
Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., says that people who work at a desk for 60 hours a week, and exercise 5 times a week for an average of 45 minutes are still coach potatoes! You still have a sedentary lifestyle.
The correlation between a sitting job and one where you get to walk around isn’t new. In 1953, a British study comparing heart disease between bus drivers and trolley conductors showed bus drivers were nearly twice as likely to die of heart disease than trolley conductors. Bus drivers usually remained sitting the entire day whereas trolley conductors would be going up and down the aisles and stairs of the double-decker trolleys.
Joseph Mercola, M.D., states “mounting research now suggests that sitting in and of itself is an independent risk factor for poor health and premature death — even in you exercise regularly.” Even if you exercise 5 times a week, if you sit most of the rest of the time you’re at an increased risk of dying prematurely.
Even NASA has gotten involved with researching what happens when you sit too long. Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of the Life Sciences Division at NASA has written a book called Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. As you probably realize, living in space has many health dangers. The lack of gravity in space makes it a very sedentary lifestyle, and medical observers note premature aging in astronauts while they are in space.
Other Physical Effects of Sitting Too Much
Weight Gain – Burn Fewer Calories
Studies show that obese people sit 2.5 more hours a day than thin people. When you sit down, your metabolism sits down too. Sitting requires almost no energy at all. A study from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, points out that on average people gain 16 pounds within 8 months of starting to do sedentary office work. A sales clerk working in a department store, and standing most of the time, burns about 50% more calories than someone sitting behind a desk.
Shortening of the Hip Flexors
One of the amazing things about the human body is how it adapts to whatever we do. In the case of sitting, the more you sit, the more your hip flexors muscles and fascia will shorten. The muscles will no longer stretch will they should, and as a result you will not stand as straight and tall as you should.
Forward Tilt to Your Pelvis
Have you ever heard of “gluteal amnesia”? To save you from Googling it right now, I’ll explain it to you. This phrase was coined by Dr. Stuart McGill to explain the phenomenon of your glute muscles actually forgetting how to fire if you spend too much time sitting in a chair. Your glutes (gluteus maximus) are the largest muscle groups in the body. When they don’t function properly, you not only won’t be able to squat or deadlift as much weight, but your body won’t burn as many calories.
As your glutes weaken, especially when combined with shortened hip flexors from sitting too much, your pelvis will start to tilt forward. In addition to putting stress on your lumbar spine, which can result in lower back pain, it will cause your gut to protrude outward even in you aren’t fat.
The graphic to the right shows the 3 major muscles groups in the hip flexors: psoas major, iliacus, and the rectus femoris. You can see how the psoas attaches to the lumbar spine, and any shortening of this muscle will pull your lumbar spine forward and out of alignment. This can result in lordosis of the spine, an exaggerated inward curvature of the spine.
Hip Imbalance from Crossing Legs
Frequently people who cross their legs can end up with hip imbalances. This can affect the stability of your lower body, and decrease your athletic ability and performance. This can impact more than your ability to exercise. It can even bother you when you’re getting up from the couch to go to the fridge.
Bad Posture Can Lead to Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain
When people spend a lot of time sitting at a computer desk, they often develop poor posture. Your shoulders tend to round forward while your head leans in toward your computer screen, and your abs can no longer be used to support your body. This can lead to a repetitive strain injury to the neck and upper back called Postural Syndrome. You can read more about this in our article about proper posture.
Steps to Take When You Are Sitting Too Much
There are many things you can and should do to avoid the problems with sitting too much. Studies are showing it’s not necessarily how much time you spend sitting, but how much time you spend moving. So, the number one key is to find ways to move instead of sitting still all the time.
Here are some tips to avoid sitting too much.
- There are adjustable desks that convert from sitting to standing desks and back, allowing you to not spend as many hours sitting. People often find that when they stand more at work they think better, are more focused, and spend less think surfing the internet.
- Stand up when you take phone calls. This provides a nice break from sitting all day.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevators.
- Stand up during your coffee breaks.
- Get an app for your phone or computer that reminds you to take a break from sitting and stand up. It even gives you simple exercises to do at the office during your break. Here’s a link to a free app for your iPhone called StandApp. There is also an ad free version for .99¢ call StandApp Pro.
- If your children are spending a lot of time watching TV or playing video games, integrate action video games into their TV time such as Wii games that will get them to dance, exercise, or move around. This will get them on their feet and active. Parents should join in too!
- If you teach a class, have the class get up and walk completely around the round every 15 minutes. Not only does this give them a chance to stand up, but also the students will have more energy and focus at the end of the day.
- Get up and get moving for at least 10 minutes every hour. Just 10 minutes for better health.
- Stand up at least 35 times a day.
Use your imagination and find ways to move. You’ll be glad you did.
Chiropractic Care for People Who Sit a Lot
If your job or lifestyle has you sitting a lot, you may need a chiropractic more than you know. The human body was designed to move, not sit. Here are some problem areas a chiropractor can help anyone who has a sedentary lifestyle.
The most important way we can help you is to encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle and find ways to add more movement to your life.
Please contact Kempsville Chiropractic at 757.467.5258 if you would like to consult with us on how your lifestyle can become healthier. If you have enjoyed this article, please recommend it to your friends and family.
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The contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Lombardozzi. The information on this site is not intended as medical advice. The information contained on this website is a sharing of knowledge based on the experience and research of Dr. Lombardozzi and his staff. Dr. Lombardozzi recommends that patients make their health care decisions after doing their research and consulting with a qualified health care professional.
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