The Health Hazards of Sitting Too Long

Why you shouldn’t sit down for too long (and how to get out of the habit)

It makes sense doesn’t it? The longer you sit down, the unhealthier you’ll be. Whether you spend all day in the office in front of a computer, or most of your leisure hours in front of the TV, play station or laptop, a sedentary lifestyle is becoming a major health problem in our society.

Increasingly, the majority of our time for a number of people is spent sitting down. A recent Canadian study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found more than half of an average person’s life is spent this way. Activities such as watching TV, playing games, searching online or commuting lend themselves to long periods of physical inactivity on lounges, chairs or car, train or bus seats.

This is having such a poor effect on our health that a number of serious ailments have been linked to sedentary behaviour, according to Dr Joanne Foody, of the Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“While we often think of the dangers of inactivity in terms of worsening cardiovascular health, there are a myriad of negative effects,” she says adding that Type 2 diabetes, some cancers and even some dementia-related illnesses have been linked to inactive behaviour.

A lack of exercise has long been associated with many health implications. However it is less well-known that such sedentary behaviour — particularly if linked with overconsumption of fast food — can lead to obesity and all its related health problems. The root cause of many of our Western society’s health problems, obesity is one of the main causes of poor diet and inactivity, according to a wide range of expert opinion.

It’s clear that leading an inactive lifestyle is very bad for your health. However with just a little planning and thought, you can help reduce the risk of related illnesses. Here’s some examples to get you started.

Give yourself a break

Stand up and stretch or go for a walk (if practical). If you work in an office, volunteer to go and take everyone’s coffee orders and collect them from the corner cafe. Any excuse to get you standing up and exercising at regular times during the day, even for a short while, will have untold benefits.

Get a dog

Not only will you get love and companionship but a dog will nag you to take it for a regular walk. This has the great advantage of dragging you away from your bed, chair, lounge or seat. Mornings and evenings are great times to take your dog for a walk and a regular routine will do wonders for you (and the dog).

Join a community activities group

There are many community-run sports and activities designed to provide low-cost healthy physical activities for members of the community. Get in contact with your local council and ask for a list of available organisations which run programs such as Tai Chi, aerobics exercise, table tennis, bushwalking, cycling or swimming. Many local groups advertise themselves on local social media such as Facebook or Nabo, which acts a local social media page designed for community announcements and events.

Try working at a stand-up desk

Many office furniture companies have been quick to understand the problem and there are now available desks that operate at two heights: one for sitting, one for standing up. Consider incorporating one in your home office or enquire about the desks’ availability in your workplace through your employer. Mixing up standing to work over the usual punishing hours in the office chair will help keep you fit and ward off sedentary lifestyle diseases.

Change your seating angle

If it’s inevitable that you spend long periods in a sitting position either at home or at work, try changing the angle at which you sit. Experts say opening the angle between the thighs and the waist is of much better benefits for the back. Around 135 degrees is suggested to give the spine its more natural S-shape. However, according to Levent Caglar from the charity BackCare, “...reclining at 135 degrees can make sitting more difficult as there is a tendency to slide off the seat: 120 degrees or less may be better."

Walk to work/run

If you work locally, try walking there once or twice a week instead of taking the car or public transport. Or if you commute, park the car further away from your workplace (or get off one train stop earlier) and give yourself some exercise by walking to work, either by yourself or with some work colleagues.

Don’t forget a quick lunch time walk or run around the block to boost fitness levels and reduce the risk of sedentary-related diseases!

It is a fact that sitting down for too long has now been linked with serious health problems and even the greater possibility of an early death. We are a society that, in general, is a great deal more inactive than that of previous generations. As science now tells us, it is vitally important to monitor just how much we sit down during the day just as it is to exercise.

As with all lifestyle changes, you are far more likely to succeed if you have a group of people to encourage you. Try any of our above recommendations with a bunch of friends, neighbours or workmates. For example, organise a walking club of neighbours and friends; get together with workmates and walk during lunchtimes or before and after work. Not only will you feel more encouraged with like-minded friends around you but the group will boost each other as you attempt to increase your physical activity.

Do you have any favourite ways of getting yourself away from the laptop, couch or car seat? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

Harvard Health - Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death - Julie Corliss
SA Health - The risk of sitting too much
Miranda Gray

Article by Miranda Gray

Miranda has had a background in the health and wellness industry for over twelve years, and is a co-founder of Aussie Health Products.

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