If you have a career, that requires sitting then you may intuitively know that sitting for long periods of time is not good for your body.
The overall stiffness and body aches that accompany prolonged sitting are just the basic signs that your body craves movement.
Public opinion regarding a consensus on how long people should actually sit in a 24-hour timeframe changes frequently. Let’s review the most recent research and evidence as well as practical tips for avoiding an unhealthy sitting routine.
What are the dangers of sitting too long?
There are numerous dangers associated with prolonged sitting, which ominously highlighted in this infographic by the Ergonomics Health Association.
Spinal deformities and nerve compression
The spine has to work against gravity while sitting, which means prolonged sitting (especially with poor posture) compresses the spine on top of vertebral discs and nerves.
Nerve compression leads to pain, loss of sensation, and potentially nerve damage. Sitting for lengthy periods of time combined with poor posture, particularly with the shoulders slumped forward, can increase your risk for chronic spinal diseases including low back pain and sciatica.
Too much sitting leads to shortening of muscle tissue, which means multiple joints (knees, hips, ankles, and the spine) are not getting full range-of-motion throughout the day.
This leads to joint discomfort and pain that can become permanent problems.
For all of the minutes spent sitting, you are losing minutes standing which means that many muscles throughout the body are not being used.
This decreases blood flow and oxygenation of muscle tissue as well as limits the muscles’ opportunity for healthy contractions. This combination leads to overall muscle weakness.
Sitting for far too long prevents regular movement of blood flow throughout the body, which increases your risk for blood clots or deep vein thrombosis.
Prolonged sitting has been linked to several lifetime conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and Type II diabetes.
Additionally, research has shown that the adverse health effects and risk of dying is practically equivalent to the risks of dying from smoking.
Recent studies have also revealed a connection between a sedentary lifestyle and an increased risk for specific-site cancers.
How long should you sit according to the experts?
According to the Mayo Clinic (2020), who backs their opinion up with multiple peer-reviewed sources, the average adult should only be sitting for 30 minutes at a time.
This means taking standing breaks for every 30 minutes of sitting, but this doesn’t specify the walking/standing ratio. A professor at the University of Waterloo suggests standing for 45 minutes after every hour of standing.
What can you do to avoid sitting all day?
Redefine your work day. There is no cure-all option. Changing how much you sit during the day involves individual goal setting and planned action . Persons who typically sit in order to accomplish day-to-day tasks need to revamp their routine and explore non-traditional ways to work outside of a chair.
Practice “bare minimum” sitting. Only sit if you really have to, or if the tasks you perform can only be completed from sitting (i.e. feeding a baby, eating a meal, taking a Zoom conference call, etc.).
Find ways to convert typical sitting tasks into standing tasks such as typing, taking a phone call, doing household chores, etc.). Remember, participate in a fair combination of sitting and standing to better your health (University of Waterloo, 2020).
Schedule movement breaks. If you have to sit, intentionally schedule movement breaks every 30 minutes by setting an alarm.
If you need something more goal-oriented, wear a pedometer and work in a certain amount of steps throughout the day to force yourself out of the chair.
If you have to sit, what can you do to help your body position?
Practice good posture.Individuals who sit with a flattened spine or slightly lordotic (with the lower back curved inward) were at decreased risk for spinal and musculoskeletal diseases as opposed to sitting slumped over.
Make a conscientious effort to have good posture in sitting and in standing. Avoid crossing your legs, leaning on your elbows, cricking your neck (to hold a phone), or rolling your shoulders forward for extended periods of time.
Use ergonomic-friendly sitting equipment. Research the latest ergonomic office and in-home devices to help improve your posture, such as office chairs, standing desks, foot rests, adjustable desktops, computer mounts, keyboard stands, etc.
There are literally hundreds of ergonomic online stores available.
Take stretch breaks. Even the most expensive ergonomic devices can’t prevent bodily pain associated with sitting too much.
Since your body was designed for movement, it is essential to get out of the chair regularly.
Schedule stretch breaks throughout the day or participate in short exercises that can be performed in your office or in-home workspace.
Sitting too much can be harmful for you in the short-run as well as lead to long-term bodily pain and disease. Make efforts to change your sitting routine now in order to prevent unnecessary future health complications.
Bention, B. (2015). 6 stretches you must do if you’re stuck sitting all day. https://www.prevention.com/fitness/a20480347/6-best-body-stretches-if-you-sit-all-day/. Viewed on November 5, 2020.
Laskowski, E.R. (2020). What are the risks of sitting too much? Mayo Clinic. Healthy Lifestyle: Adult Health. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005. Viewed on November 4, 2020.
How long should you stand-rather than sit-at your workstation? (2020). University of Waterloo: Department of Kinesiology. https://uwaterloo.ca/kinesiology/how-long-should-you-stand-rather-sit-your-work-station#:~:text=Sitting%20behind%20your%20desk%20all,hour%20to%20get%20health%20benefits. Viewed on November 5, 2020.
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Kwon, Y., Kim, J. W., Heo, J. H., Jeon, H. M., Choi, E. B., & Eom, G. M. (2018). The effect of sitting posture on the loads at cervico-thoracic and lumbosacral joints. Technology and health care : official journal of the European Society for Engineering and Medicine, 26(S1), 409–418. https://doi.org/10.3233/THC-174717
Atlas, S.J. (2017). Taming the pain of sciatica: For most people, time heals and less is more. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/taming-pain-sciatica-people-time-heals-less-2017071212048.