Anyone paying attention to health news in recent years has likely caught wind of the many recent studies pointing to the apparent deadliness associated with sitting down for several hours a day.
For example, a report by the American Cancer Society in 2010 stated that men who sat for six or more hours each day increased their rate of death by almost 20 percent compared to men who sat for three hours or less in a follow-up study. The number for women in the same report was close to 40 percent higher.
That’s not the worst part. According to the report, even if people involved had a designated exercise time at another point in the day, that exercise time did little to mitigate the effects of sitting for several hours.
That means two things. First, those of us who have eight-hour-per-day desk jobs -- myself included -- are at a higher risk of death, even if we go to the gym after work. Second, if you have a job that requires you to move constantly, you’re at an advantage over all of the desk job folks.
Let’s consider a few specific bad effects that come from sitting in chairs for several hours every day:
Weakening of the heart: Athletes are known for having exceptionally low heart rates due to their hearts becoming much more efficient at pumping blood through their bodies. They also tend to have higher-than-normal VO2 rates (VO2 refers to the amount of oxygen a person’s body can use during exercise).
Sitting for too long has the opposite effect, making your heart and lungs less efficient and requiring that they work harder to supply your body with enough oxygen. Over time, this can contribute to more serious issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Tightening of the hamstrings: When we sit down, our hamstrings (the muscle group at the back of the thigh) relax and have slack in them similar to when you reduce the tension on a rubber band.
Repeated sitting for hours causes that slack to decrease, resulting in tighter, stiffer hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are bad for the back and often lead to exercise injuries.
“Computer neck”: We often don’t realize how much we crane our necks to look at our computer screens while sitting at our desks. Doing this for several hours a day stretches the posterior cervical muscles and causes a forward-head lean, otherwise known as “computer neck.”
Impeded circulation in the legs: Prolonged sitting can negatively affect circulation to the legs, which are our body parts that are the farthest away from the heart. This can lead to various conditions including cramps, swelling, varicose veins and blood clots.
That’s enough on the bad news. The good news is that we can do something about this. What might that be? Simple: We can move!
However, your plan to move must go beyond an after-work walk or gym visit. Develop strategies for moving while at work. Get up every hour or two to visit a co-worker and/or take a bathroom break at the bathroom farthest away from your office.
Stand up often and perform hamstring and neck stretches to counteract the negative effects on these muscles from sitting. You can even consider throwing in a couple of exercises during your move break such as calf raises, push-ups or dips off of your desk.
Sitting for several hours every day has proven to not only be bad for your health; it has been shown to be quite bad. Unfortunately, after-work exercisers aren’t exempt from those bad effects.
However, if you take just a few moments throughout every single workday to simply move around, you can do a lot to lower your mortality risk and beat the statistics.
Shawn McClendon is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog www.YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.