The medical community has spoken. Enemy number one used to be smoking, but far fewer people are smoking than in the past. The new enemy, according to many doctors, is our culture of sitting. It is not at all uncommon for one to eat breakfast sitting down, then commute to work sitting in a car, then work all day sitting at a desk, then come home to relax… by sitting on the couch and watching television. It’s especially common in Raleigh with all of the tech jobs in our area.
The majority of Americans now sit for more than six hours a day, with some sitting for 10 or even 15 hours a day. This may seem like a natural way to live, but in reality, it is severely damaging our health. Human beings evolved to move, not to be sedentary in one place all day. The effects of sitting this much are more catastrophic than we could have imagined.
Dr. Steven Conway, a chiropractor in Wisconsin, said in a recent interview, “We were built to move. The non-moving is the hardest thing on us.”
Effects on mental health
Before we even get to the physical effects of constant sitting, we should first talk about how it affects the psyche. Multiple studies have shown rates of both anxiety and depression increasing among those living a sedentary lifestyle. In addition, sleep is affected as those who sit more can experience prolonged bouts of insomnia.
The amount of research that shows a negative impact of sitting on cardiovascular health is staggering. The risk of a heart attack or stroke goes up by 147 percent for those who sit for longer periods. Blood pressure increases, leading to skyrocketing hypertension and heart disease rates as well.
Pain and Posture
Sitting in one position all day, especially hunched over a computer, can create muscle imbalances called upper cross and lower cross syndromes. Upper cross syndrome causes pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back and causes weakness in opposing muscle groups like the mid back. Lower cross syndrome leads to weak abdominal muscles, glutes, and legs. Pressure will increase on the lower back and hips, causing potential early degeneration of disks in the back and in the hip joints.
Other serious medical issues from sitting
If that wasn’t enough to get you up and moving more, there are even more negative effects from sitting. Type two diabetes rates increased 112 percent due to the negative impact on insulin response in the bloodstream. Both prostate and breast cancer risk go up 30 percent for those who sit more than recommended.
What to do to combat the culture of sitting
It seems futile in a culture where we sit in air-conditioned offices at work and come home to comfortable couches to think we can just stop sitting. Sitting in and of itself is not bad; it’s just how much we do it and for how long at a time. Doctors recommend getting up at least once an hour to move around and to get at least half an hour of exercise per day.
Another recommendation is to simply change your habits of how you work and how you entertain yourself. Try doing chores while you watch TV and incorporate some periods of standing while you’re working. Whatever you do, it’s important to fight this trend so you can be happier and healthier in the long run.