Are you sitting down? You might want to stand.
Experts long have warned that able-bodied people are sitting too much. And that can have some serious consequences for your health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently issued new physical activity guidelines, advising people to sit less throughout the day. So why should you stand up and get moving? Here are five ways sitting can harm your health — as well as some tips to add more activity into your life.
1. Your muscles get weak and stiff
Use them, or lose them — your muscles, that is. Sitting all day might result in muscle stiffness and weakness in your lower body. And this can even lead to pain, numbness and something called “dead butt syndrome.”
“Constant sitting weakens the gluteus medius, one of the three primary muscles in the buttock,” according to Cleveland Clinic. “It also tightens the hip flexors.” The gluteus medius stabilizes your hips and pelvis. And weakness can cause hip and lower back pain, as well as nerve compression. Cleveland Clinic recommends standing for at least 20 minutes per hour to help prevent this problem.
2. Your spine health suffers
If you’re not sitting with perfect posture, you’re at a higher risk of aches, pains and degeneration in your spine. “Sitting for prolonged periods of time can be a major cause of back pain, cause increased stress of the back, neck, arms and legs and can add a tremendous amount of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs,” the UCLA Spine Center says. “Additionally, sitting in a slouched position can overstretch the spinal ligaments and strain the spinal discs.”
For instance, if you work on a computer and your monitor isn’t at the correct height, you can put an incredible strain on your neck. “When your neck is bent to 45 degrees, your head exerts nearly 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of force on your neck,” according to Mayo Clinic. “In addition to straining joints and muscles in your neck and shoulders, the pressure affects your breathing and mood.” So it’s important to constantly check in with your posture and stretch your spine as often as you can.
3. Sitting might lead to memory loss
A recent study from UCLA researchers found sedentary behavior might influence brain health. The study’s 35 participants reported their activity levels, as well as how many hours they sat per day. Then, they received MRI scans of their brains.
The researchers found regardless of physical activity, the people who sat the most showed thinning in the part of the brain that’s involved in memory formation. But because this was a preliminary study, further research still must be done to explore these results.
4. You’re at a greater risk of many diseases
There are many health conditions that studies have associated with prolonged sitting. “They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome,” according to Mayo Clinic.
You’re also at a higher risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. In fact, one study found people who sit a lot have a 147 percent higher risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event — e.g., a heart attack, stroke, etc. Plus, prolonged sitting can lead to dangerous blood clots forming in your legs.
5. Sitting might shorten your life
You might be knocking some time off your life if you stay seated. One study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found “sitting for more than three hours per day is responsible for 3.8% of all-cause mortality deaths.” And the researchers estimated that sitting for fewer than three hours per day would increase a person’s life expectancy by an average 0.2 years. If you can’t cut your sitting by that much, the study fortunately found even a 10 percent reduction in sedentary time lowered death rates.
Another study on older women found those who reported the most sedentary time had a higher risk of dying from any cause. And that was true even for participants who exercised regularly if most of their other hours were spent sitting. So getting consistent activity throughout your day is key to reducing that risk.
How to add more movement into your life
It can be extremely difficult to break a sitting habit. Office jobs, health conditions and many other factors make it all too easy to sit too much. But if you’re able to add more movement into your life, you should.
Harvard Medical School offers a few tips to reduce your sedentary hours.
- Move every 30 minutes. Set an alarm, use an activity tracker or partner with a friend to move more. Do whatever you need to avoid sinking into your chair, losing track of time and realizing you haven’t moved all day.
- Pace during phone calls. Even taking a few steps back and forth is better than remaining seated. And if you can, hold walking meetings with friends and colleagues instead of sitting at a table.
- Don’t binge-watch TV. Use those commercial breaks (or the pause button) to your advantage. Get up to grab some water, do a quick chore or simply stretch. If you’re really feeling ambitious, take those minutes to do a few exercises, such as squats or lunges.
- Walk wherever you can. If a destination is within walking distance, get out and pound the pavement. Or park as far from an entrance as possible to get in some more steps. Plus, take the stairs whenever you can. And for extra motivation, use a fitness tracker to log your daily steps.
Every step counts toward your health. And when you do finally take a seat, make yourself comfortable. You’ve earned it.
Main image credit: seb_ra/Getty Images
By Mary Daly
This article first appeared in Care 2 Healthy Living.