So many of us have desk jobs that require us to sit several hours every day, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon! So I thought I would talk about what sitting those long hours does to your body over time and encourage you to start making some changes throughout the day to prevent these changes from happening.
So what does sitting too long actually do to your body?
- Heart disease: When you are sitting, your muscles burn less fat and you have slower blood flow, eventually causing fatty acids to “clog” your heart leading to heart disease. Sitting for long periods increases your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Over-productive pancreas: Prolonged sitting can increase your risk of diabetes. Have you heard of insulin? It’s a hormone the carries glucose to cells for energy. But when your muscles are idle, muscle cells don’t respond as well to insulin causing the pancreas to produce more and more insulin, resulting in diabetes and other diseases.
- Cancer: There have been studies that linked sitting to a greater risk for colon, breast and endometrial cancers, but the reason behind this is uncertain. One thought is that excess insulin promotes cell growth or multiplication, which is how cancer begins. Another theory is that regular movement boosts the release of natural antioxidants that kill free radicals. Free radicals damage cells and possibly cause cancer.
- Weak abs: When sitting long hours with poor posture your abdominal muscles become weak, which can eventually lead to low back pain. When you stand, move or sit up straight you are engaging your abs and strengthening your core.
- Tight hips: Have you heard of your hip flexors? They are a set of muscles that are responsible for flexing your hips (or bringing your thigh up towards your torso). So when you are sitting, it causes these muscles to shorten or tighten. And if you sitting long hours, you are constantly tightening these muscles. Tight hip flexors can eventually cause you to have problems in your hips or your low back.
- Weak glutes: When you are sitting, your glutes don’t really do much of anything. And when you have weak glutes, your stability and your stride when walking are affected.
Poor circulation in the legs: Sitting for long periods causes blood flow to slow down and allows it to pool in the legs, which could lead to ankle swelling, varicose veins or even blood clots.
Trouble at the Top:
- “Brain fog”: Movement causes muscles to pump fresh blood and oxygen to the brain and trigger the release of all kinds of brain and mood-enhancing hormones and chemicals. Our brain function is affected by sitting for long periods.
- Neck, shoulder and upper-back pain: Sitting at a desk all day, we tend to roll our shoulders forward and crane our necks forward toward our computer screen. Doing this all day leads to an abnormal posture called anterior head carriage. Having a posture like this puts more pressure and stress on your joints and discs in your spine, while also causing tight muscles in your neck and upper-back leading to neck pain and headaches.
How do I prevent some of this from happening?
- Get up and walk around! In an ideal world, we would get up every 10-20 minutes to move around. But that’s not very realistic! You should try to get up and walk or stretch every hour.
- Get a stand-up desk at work and alternate sitting and standing throughout the day.
- Take a look at the chair you are sitting in. Does it have good support for your low back? If not, get a lumbar support pillow. Or even sit on an exercise ball! Sitting on an exercise ball makes you activate your core muscles and sit with better posture.
Start getting your body moving today! Your body will thank you for it down the road!
Dr. Jessica Stensland is a busy family wellness Chiropractor in Urbandale, Iowa. She spends her weeks taking care of dozens of families. Not only does Dr. Jessica specialize in pediatric and pregnancy chiropractic care, but she’s a board certified Acupuncturist. Dr. Jessica believes that a healthier community means taking care of all ages. She is a Minnesota native and enjoys seeing family and friends in her free time, in addition to staying active and reading the many books she has on her kindle.