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Why Sitting Too Much Is Killing You (And How To Cut Back)

The saying “sitting is the new smoking” is not a foreign phrase to most of us, yet many people still struggle to remain active throughout the day. Whether you’re taking care of work obligations or simply looking to relax, the average person now spends up to 15 hours a day sitting down. Unfortunately, many health hazards are associated with a sedentary lifestyle, and avoiding them is well worth shaking up your routine.

Some of the many potential health concerns that become more likely when sitting for long periods include obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But with all of these concerns, you might be asking, why is sitting so bad for your health? In this article, we’ll take a look at the science behind why sitting too much is bad for our health and share some practical advice to help you cut back on the time you spend doing it.

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The Health Risks of Sitting Too Much

With more of our time spent in the digital world to work, shop, play, and interact with others, we spend more time sitting down and less time going out and about. And even as businesses become friendlier to remote work, many employees still work from the office. While these desk jobs often provide fulfilling careers and exercise the mind, the absence of physical demands and long hours of sitting takes a toll on the body.

Before we dive into how you can spend less time sitting down, let’s talk about why it’s so important. Here are some of the most significant issues you might be risking with a sedentary lifestyle.

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Poor Mental Health

We know that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to many physical issues, but it can also be bad for your mental health. Research indicates that sitting for long periods can interfere with memory retention in older adults and increase the risk of anxiety and depression. According to a 2014 psychological study, people “who sat for long stretches at work experienced increased rates of anxiety and depression.” Such mental health issues aren’t confined to adults either. According to NPR, “sitting still is linked to a higher risk of depression among teens.”

Weight Gain and Obesity

Weight Gain and Obesity

Studies show that Americans sit anywhere from six to thirteen hours a day, including around 3 hours during leisure time. Over time, this type of lifestyle will lead to weight gain. A study consisting of 124 participants examined via MRI scans revealed a correlation between long hours of sitting and increased fat around the liver and abdominal areas.

Lower Back Pain and Spine Issues

Lower Back Pain and Spine Issues

Sitting can also lead to lower back pain and spine problems because it puts additional pressure on the cushioning between vertebrae, known as spinal discs. Poor posture is another contributing factor because overstretched ligaments strain the spinal discs and often cause shoulder and neck pain.

Muscle Issues

Muscle Issues

In addition to straining muscles in the upper body, leading a sedentary lifestyle also weakens the muscles in the lower body. Due to lack of use, muscles in the legs, hips, and buttocks will atrophy. As blood accumulates in the leg muscles, health issues can occur, including blood clots, vein thrombosis, and even varicose veins.

Increased Risk of Fatal Diseases

Increased Risk of Fatal Diseases

In 2018, the American Cancer Society published a study revealing that sitting for several hours increased the risk of more than 14 life-threatening diseases. These included cancer, stroke, kidney and heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

Ongoing research on the dangers of sitting continues. While it’s difficult to pinpoint why it results in so many health issues, researchers speculate that keeping muscles in a prolonged state of relaxation leads to fewer calories burned, muscle loss, higher blood glucose levels, and a slower metabolism.

Hopefully, this information has motivated you to find ways to increase your activity.

How to Reduce the Amount of Time You Spend Sitting

Even though we recognize the importance of exercising and being active, making it a part of our daily routine doesn’t always happen. Fortunately, with a bit of effort and commitment, you can change your lifestyle to actually reverse some of the health issues caused by sitting too much.

According to the European Heart Journal, replacing just two hours a day of sitting with movement can lead to 14% lower triglycerides, higher “good” cholesterol, a trimmer waistline, and better glucose control. So how do you consistently spend less time sitting down to realize those benefits? Here’s some advice to help.

Get Up and Move Every 30 Minutes

Get Up and Move Every 30 Minutes

Setting a timer is one of the easiest ways to break up your sedentary day and work in some more activity. Getting up every 30 minutes to stretch will not only help you get your blood flow going, but it’s also a chance to rest your eyes and mind so that you can return to work in just a few minutes with a fresh perspective.

Not convinced? Dr. Keith Diaz of Columbia University Medical Center found that moving every half-hour reduces the risk of death. The research involved more than 7,900 people aged 45 or older and followed them over the course of 4 years.

Take Walking Breaks

Take Walking Breaks

No matter your age, walking is widely considered one of the best exercises. In fact, health experts believe that a short 5-minute walk can help re-energize your body, improve your mood, and clear your mind. Walking for at least 30 minutes every day can also help you lose weight, strengthen muscles, and reduce the risk of health issues.

Best of all, walking is a low-impact exercise and requires no equipment whatsoever. You don’t even need any special clothes, beyond comfortable shoes. If you’re in an office or on a work schedule where you can’t leave due to other responsibilities, you can still fit in a short walk because walking in place is much better than sitting down.

If you need extra motivation to get moving, team up with a coworker to walk on your break or during personal time. You can also walk in place while watching a show, listening to music, or tuning in to your favorite podcast. That means you can most certainly multitask while walking if you’re worried about increased activity getting in the way of your productivity. So, next time you have a phone call to take or email to dictate, try to do it on the go.

Stretch or Do Yoga

Stretch or Do Yoga

Incorporating exercise into a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t need to involve jogging, aerobics, or even getting sweaty. While those activities offer many benefits, opting for something gentler can be just as advantageous. So if you have mobility problems and find that even walking is a struggle—or if you’re looking to go a step further—basic stretches can be an easy way to get your body moving.

Aside from helping your blood flow, stretching or yoga will improve flexibility and offer natural pain relief. The best part is that you can modify stretching and yoga practice to meet whatever your current mobility level and physical capabilities allow you to do. For instance, you can do stretches while standing with the help of a chair for balance if getting down on the mat isn’t comfortable.

If you’re unsure where to start with stretches or yoga, plenty of free resources are available online. From visual guides to full-on video tutorials, you can easily find material to walk you through everything from form to breathing. To get started, all you need is a firm place to lay down with a bit of padding, such as a mat or carpet.

Invest in a Standing Desk

Invest in a Standing Desk

Besides being intentional about moving more during the day, working at a standing desk offers several benefits. Regardless of whether you work from home or in an office environment, the right standing desk will prove to be a fantastic investment. Designed to suit any space, SmartDesk’s all-in-one standing desks feature adjustable height settings—so you can always find the perfect position for both your comfort and your health.

So even if you need to keep working, it doesn’t mean you have to keep sitting. With a SmartDesk, you can get out of your chair and enjoy all the benefits of spending less time sitting, without seeing your productivity take a dive. With more flexibility as to how you work, you might find that you’re getting even more done.

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