If sitting is so relaxing, why is it bad for you? The problem lies in how much of it and how long we sit each day.
By Nosa Iyamu
Most of us sit for hours every day – in traffic, at work or while watching our favorite TV shows in the evening. The shocking reality is that all that sitting for hours can kill us.
Sitting might seem like a harmless activity, but medical experts say that prolonged sitting every day is linked to serious health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, joint pain, blood clotting, and cardiovascular disease.
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You may have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” that Dr. James Levine, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He has spent years studying the science of sitting and the unintended danger we put ourselves in every day when we lead a sedentary life.
The human body isn’t designed to sit as much as we do, says Dr. Levine. Our ancestors spent most of their lives upright while hunting for and cultivating food—only occasionally for sedentary breaks. In his book Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You,” he explains that we’ve transitioned from an ancient world of movers to a modern world of chair sloths.
If sitting is so relaxing, why is it bad for you? The problem lies in how much of it and how long we sit each day. When our body is in a static position for a long period of time all sorts of bad things happen such as:
Poor circulation can cause fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels, leading to heart disease. And according to World Thrombosis Day, another risk is not contracting your calf muscles when your legs stand still for hours, which usually helps blood flow. This can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a condition in which blood clots form in the calves of your legs if your calf muscles don’t move for a long time.
DVT is a serious problem. If part of the blood clot breaks off, it can travel to the lungs and cause blockage. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE) and can be fatal.
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What you can do
Try to estimate how many hours you spend “downstairs” in a day, including commuting to work, sitting at your desk, running errands in your car, and sleeping on the couch at night. Adding it up, it’s probably more than you think. Children who lead sedentary lives, playing video games and watching TV for hours instead of playing outside, are also at risk for health complications.
It’s clear that excessive sedentary behavior affects people negatively, as has smoking over the years, so how can you break the habit? It’s not enough to just get up all day, says Dr. Helen Okoye, a leading Nigerian thrombosis specialist and a member of the Global World Thrombosis Day Steering Committee.
It’s not good for you to keep your body in a static position day in and day out—whether it’s sitting, standing, or lying down. And, she adds, while it’s important to get some exercise, like going for a run or going to the gym, exercise alone isn’t enough to offset the negative effects of too much sitting. Sitting is a risk factor in its own right, the solution to which is to build as much movement into the day as possible.
“It’s all the small movements we make throughout the day that count. The trick is to build exercise into every part of your life,” advises Dr. okay “During your work week, break up chair time by keeping moving whenever possible. Get up while you’re on the phone, go for a walk during your lunch break, and take a five-minute standing break for every hour you sit down.
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“If you know you will be sitting for a long time, such as “For example, at a conference, wear loose-fitting clothing that allows blood flow and stay hydrated with water to thin the blood,” says Dr. okay .
Dance at home while you cook or clean the house and take your kids for a walk at the end of the day when the whole family is at home. If you’re shopping, park farther from your destination and walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators—or at least walk up the escalators. Every minute of physical activity counts.
While there’s room to sit these days, the bottom line is that we need to seriously think about transforming our sitting habits from habit to conscious. “Make it a daily habit to exercise more,” says Dr. okay “The less you keep your body in a static position throughout the day, the better your chances of living a healthy life.”