Do you sit in your office chair for eight hours and then on your living room sofa for the rest of the night? If so then you’re one of millions of Canadians with an office job and a sedentary lifestyle. Well, that’s not your fault. From Alexa and Siri to delivered groceries and pre-made meal services, modern society is designed for sitting. As a result, people spend more time seated than ever before.
Apart from being one of the primary causes of several physical health issues, sitting all day affects your mental health as well. According to a study published by the journal PLOS ONE, sedentary behaviour is associated with reduced temporal lobe thickness in middle-aged and older adults. This means people who spend most of their time sitting suffer thinning in parts of the brain linked to memory.
If this comes as a shock, keep reading to learn how a sedentary lifestyle is sabotaging your health and how to counteract it.
Why Sitting Is the New Smoking and How You Can Prevent It
Side-Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle
Moving causes your muscles to release lipoprotein lipase which helps process fats and sugars. Sitting more than six hours a day decreases lipoprotein lipase activity which adversely affects your body’s ability to burn fat. As a result, this increases the fat stored in your body and encourages the use of carbohydrates instead of fat for fuel. Unsurprisingly, this leads to weight gain.
Of course, immobility leads to poor blood circulation. And when your body burns less fat, combined with poor blood circulation, there is an increased chance of fatty acids blocking your arteries. This leads to elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. According to a blog posted by Harvard Health Publishing, people who sit for 10 hours or more a day have an 18% greater risk of heart attack compared to those who sit five hours or less. Starting to feel the pain yet?
Physical inactivity, including prolonged sitting, is a contributing factor of diabetes. This is because the decrease in muscle mass and strength can lead to lowered insulin sensitivity (cells respond to insulin slowly). Moreover, the body’s sensitivity to insulin is inversely proportional to the incidence of diabetes.
Being seated, be it in the office, at home, or while driving, loosens and weakens muscles, especially in the midsection and lower body. When you’re sitting all day, you are not using your lower body muscles. This leads to muscle atrophy affecting your legs, glutes, and back which can put you at risk of injury. These muscles are responsible for stabilizing your body when walking or jumping.
Anxiety and Depression
As mentioned, the side effects of a sedentary lifestyle are not limited to physical health. They can also impact you psychologically. There are many theories to explain why this happens, including:
- Sedentary activities like videogaming, working on a computer, and watching TV constantly stimulate the nervous system, leading to an increased risk of anxiety.
- People who spend most of their time sitting lack the mental health benefits of fitness and, hence, feel more anxious and depressed.
- Spending hours in front of a computer or television limits sun exposure and social interaction which leads to vitamin D deficiency and feelings of loneliness.
Posture Issues and Chronic Body Pain
No matter how much you try to keep yourself from slouching at work, spending hours sitting inevitably causes a variety of problems for your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. Sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten, compresses the discs in your spine, and makes your neck and shoulders curved and stiff. As a result, your spine loses flexibility and your pelvis rotates inappropriately, leading to bad posture and body pain.
How to Counteract the Harmful Effects of Prolonged Sitting
Do the above-mentioned side-effects scare you? Fear not! A more active lifestyle can reduce the chances of chronic health conditions and other disorders caused by prolonged sitting. Oh, and offsetting the effects of sitting for hours every day doesn’t just mean sweating it out regularly at the gym. Here’s what else you can do:
- Spend more time walking and standing instead of sitting. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, stand rather than sit on public transport, park your car further from the entrance, take walks during your lunch breaks, and take a longer way to your desk.
- Create pockets of moderate activities throughout the day. For example, stand once an hour and take regular breaks to maintain a constant stream of activity. Maybe even set an alarm to remind you to stand once an hour. Indulge in some light physical activities to encourage blood circulation in your legs and glutes.
- Invest in custom furniture to facilitate good body posture. Ergonomic chairs and standing desks support your back and prevent prolonged sitting. You can also use an exercise ball for a chair to engage your core muscles to improve balance and flexibility. As far as home furniture is concerned, avoid sit-and-sink style sofas and recliners as they strain your spine and pelvis.
- Take up gardening, mow the lawn, dance, swim, do martial arts or other DIY projects in your leisure time instead of watching TV or playing video games. Even if you’re watching an interesting show, get up and walk around during commercials.
A sedentary lifestyle can take years off your life so get up and get moving. It might sound simple, but the reality can be hard to get used to. Start today by including some physical activity into your daily routine. It might take time to adjust, but once you do, it will be every bit as comfortable as sitting.