sitting at work

The Dangers of Sitting Too Much at Work

By | December 5, 2016 | wellness

Another day of sitting at your desk all day? Don’t ignore those “stand” notifications on your phone. Sitting for extended periods of time isn’t just a bore, it lead to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and other health issues. Staying sedentary can have similar impacts as obesity on bones and joints and can wreck havoc on nervous systems, clouding the ability to think clearly and causing pain.

RELATED: Sneaky Office Fitness (or, How to Exercise in a Suit)

Why sitting all day is bad.

According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, prolonged sedentary time (sitting) is associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.

It is estimated that nearly 3.2 million people die each year as a result of sedentary lifestyles.

That means even your hour of daily exercise won’t help if you average more time sitting than standing. And the World Health Organization (WHO) agrees, listing physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for death globally. 

The dangers of sitting too much

Who knew sitting was so bad for you? An unfortunate consequence of the modern labor force is that it requires us to stay put in front of our computers for extended periods. Employers often don’t understand the strain the put on their employees’ health when they aren’t held accountable for creating work environments that discourage time away from the desk.

Heart disease

Although the exact mechanism has yet to be determined, we do know that too much sitting leads to increased risk for heart disease – two-times higher than in more active individuals. The thinking is that because sedentary muscles burn less fat and blood flows more slowly through the heart when you are sitting, this allows for fatty acids to clog the arteries more easily. Excessive sitting is also linked to higher cholesterol levels and elevated blood pressure.

RELATED: Top Five Tips to Help You Manage Stress and Maximize Your Day

Increased cancer risk

Increased incidences of breast, colon and endometrial cancer are all linked to prolonged sitting, especially in women. Researchers for the American Cancer Society found that women who spend six hours of free time or more sitting per day have a 10% greater risk of getting cancer than women who spend less than three hours of free time sitting per day. One theory posits that this is because movement promotes the natural production of cancer-fighting antioxidants, which are missing when you sit too much.

Tip: Set a reminder to stand every hour. Sometimes something as simple as getting up to get a glass of water or cup of tea every hour gives you a reason to leave your desk.

Musculoskeletal degeneration

It’s simple. Without movement, your body breaks down. Bones become brittle and weak without regular exercise and muscles and joints degenerate or get stiffer the longer you sit. Too much sitting your abs, glutes and hip flexors weaken. That means muscle wasting and even improper alignment of the hips and spine can lead to musculoskeletal injuries lower back pain.

Back problems

From sore shoulders to an inflexible spine, sitting too much and for too long really takes a toll on your back. Office workers, in particular, know all about the pains associated with sitting for long stretches throughout the day. Slouching, for example, stretches spinal ligaments, putting a strain on your discs that can result in lumbar herniation. And that’s not all. It also overextends shoulder and back muscles, like the trapezius and rhomboids, which can cause painful spasms and may even impact spinal nerves.

go for a lunchtime walk
Ask a co-worker to go out for lunch. It is not only a perfectly acceptable excuse to get out for a walk, it also gives you an opportunity to get to know your colleagues better and promotes collegiality in the workplace.

Decreased mental clarity

Sitting is a pain in the neck – literally – and it can also cloud your ability to think clearly. If you’re not seated with your back perfectly straight and the top third of your computer screen aligned with your eyes, you may be damaging more than intervertebral disc space. Cervical subluxations of the spine impede the synaptic transmission of neurological processes, which also decreases oxygen flow to the brain, making it harder for you to think clearly.

dangers of sitting at work infographic

Sit less. Stand more.

Here are a few ideas to help you sit less and stand more at work:

  • Switch from a seated desk to a standing desk – Bonus: standing burns 30% more calories than sitting.
  • Set an alarm that reminds you to get up and walk around for two to three minutes every half hour while you’re at work.
  • Drink more water for more walking trips to the bathroom (Hey, whatever works!)
  • Go for a walk during your lunch break or host a walking meeting.
  • Forget Slack and Google Hangouts; walk over to your coworker for a chat instead.

Do you know someone who might need a little incentive to sit less at work? Share this article with them, or even hang it up in your office. 


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