Our body is designed for regular movement, but many people spend the bulk of their day sitting still instead. On average, a US adult spends nine to 10 hours each day sitting, which is so much inactivity that even a 30- or 60-minute workout can’t counteract its effects.
According to researchers sitting for long periods of time leads to obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Researchers looked at 47 studies examining the relationship between sitting and mortality, according to the findings, published Jan. 20 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. They found that people who sit for long periods were 24 percent more likely to die from health problems during the studies, which lasted between 1 and 16 years, compared with people who sat less.
This is what Happens to Your Body When You Sit for Too Long?
Long sitting leads to sluggish blood flow and the muscles burn less fat, allowing fatty acids to more easily clog the heart. Prolonged sitting has been linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, and people with the most sedentary time are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the least.
Your body’s ability to respond to insulin is affected by just one day of excess sitting, which leads your pancreas to produce increased amounts of insulin, and this may lead to diabetes.
Excess sitting may increase your risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. The reason is unclear, but one theory is that excess insulin encourages cell growth. Another is that regular movement boosts natural antioxidants that kill cell-damaging — and potentially cancer-causing — free radicals.
Sitting down after you’ve eaten causes your abdominal contents to compress, slowing down digestion. Sluggish digestion, in turn, can lead to cramping, bloating, heartburn, and constipation, as well as dysbiosis in your gastrointestinal tract, a condition caused by microbial im
balances in your body.
Flexible hips help keep you balanced, but chronic sitters so rarely extend the hip flexor muscles in front that they become short and tight, limiting range of motion and stride length. Studies have found that decreased hip mobility is a main reason elderly people tend to fall.
This one is fairly obvious. No one who sits for nine or more hours a day is disillusioned enough to believe that sitting down is great for the waistline. Obese people typically sit for two and a half more hours per day than thin people. Between 1980 and 2000 while exercise rates remained the same, obesity doubled as time spent sitting increased by 8%.
Back and neck pain
One of the most common and very physical symptoms of living much of your life in a seated position is the presence of back and neck pain. Cradling a phone to your ear and jutting your neck and head forward while working at a computer leads to strains in your cervical vertebrae which causes neck strain, sore shoulders, and back pain. The very act of sitting puts added pressure on your spine and compresses the disks that make up your back.
Your brain function slows when your body is sedentary for too long. Your brain will get less fresh blood and oxygen, which are needed to trigger the release of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals.
When you stand, move or even sit up straight, abdominal muscles keep you upright. But when you slump in a chair, they go unused. Tight back muscles and wimpy abs form a posture-wrecking alliance that can exaggerate the spine’s natural arch, a condition called hyperlordosis, or swayback.
Varicose Veins: Sitting leads to poor circulation in your legs, which can cause swelling in your ankles, varicose veins, and blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Weak Bones: Walking, running, and engaging in other weight-bearing activities lead to stronger, denser bones. Lack of activity may cause weak bones and even osteoporos
People who sit more are at greater risk for herniated lumbar disks. A muscle called the psoas travels through the abdominal cavity and, when it tightens, pulls the upper lumbar spine forward. Upper-body weight rests entirely on the ischial tuberosity (sitting bones) instead of being distributed along the arch of the spine.
The right way to sit If you have to sit often, try to do it correctly. As Mom always said, “Sit up straight.”
- Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back.
Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
- All three normal back curves should be present while sitting. A small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll can be used to help you maintain the normal curves in your back. Here’s how to find a good sitting position when you’re not using a back support or lumbar roll: Sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely. Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds. Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
- Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
- Bend your knees at a right angle. Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips. (use a foot rest or stool if necessary). Your legs should not be crossed.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
- At work, adjust your chair height and work station so you can sit up close to your work and tilt it up at you.
- Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
- When sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, don’t twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your whole body.
- When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat of your chair. Stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist. Immediately stretch your back by doing 10 standing backbends. You can assume other sitting positions for short periods of time, but most of your sitting time should be spent as described above so there is minimal stress on your spine.
Remember, however, that for optimal health sitting should be your last resort when you have no alternative. It is far better for you to stand than sit. It might take a bit to adjust but once you do it will be every bit as comfortable as sitting.
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This article is not intended to take the place of a competent nutritionist or doctor. It is solely intended to educate people on the vital and perhaps underestimated importance of this nutritional element.
If you suffer from a medical condition, consult your doctor. If you have questions as to the application of this information to your own health, you are advised to consult a qualified health professional.