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Do You Sit Too Much? Sedentary Lifestyle, Health Impacts, and Solutions

Do You Sit Too Much? Sedentary Lifestyle, Health Impacts, and Solutions

Read Time • 7 Min
  • Category Health, Experts
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Do you think you sit too much throughout the day? Do you feel like you don’t get up from your desk very much? Do you reach the end of the day and realize you feel achy from sitting so much? Do you eat lunch at your desk and never take a break from work? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be too sedentary. 

Even if you get physical activity outside of work (via smart workouts), you may not be getting enough activity throughout the day to counteract the effects of sedentary behaviors.  Living a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative impact on your health.  Living this lifestyle can increase your risk of having several health conditions and can even decrease your lifespan.  Americans, for example, spend 70% of their time sitting - and this can lead to acquiring several unwanted (and often times preventable) health conditions. It's important to figure out ways to get more activity throughout the day in addition to leading an active lifestyle outside of the workplace. 

A sedentary lifestyle is basically defined as not getting enough movement throughout the day, an excessive amount of sitting or inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle has health impacts that go beyond the most obvious, which is the impact on weight.  This type of lifestyle contributes to multiple health risks that include mortality, cardiovascular disease, impaired respiratory function, cancer, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity related risks, mental health changes and musculoskeletal related changes. 

There are ways to increase your activity throughout the day that may not take up a lot of your time.  One thing you can do is to increase your walking time. You could park further way from your work, you could take the stairs instead of the elevator, or you could walk over to talk to your co-workers instead of communicating via email.  

If you watch TV at night as a way to relax, then you could do some exercises during commercials or during a show in order to increase activity. 

You could also do exercises at your desk, including knee extensions or using a foot pedal while you are sitting. The standing desk is becoming more popular so that people can stand more throughout the day which will increase activity and increase energy expenditure which means you burn more calories versus when sitting.  Instead of sitting in an office to have meetings with your co-workers you could have a standing meeting or walking meetings so that you get your activity in but don’t take any time away from your work.  

 You could also try to get some activity in during your lunch break so that it breaks up your sitting throughout the day.  

Now you have some ideas for increasing your movement when you are at work but you still may be saying to yourself that it is still not possible to really move that much more.  You may even incorporate all of these into your daily life but you are still experiencing aches and pains associated with prolonged sitting. 

Related: 50 Ways to Burn 500 Calories; Fifty 500 Calorie Workouts

If you are suffering from back pain, neck pain, hip pain, and various other muscle-related pains, then you may need to take a look at how your desk is set up and take a look at your posture. You need to have an ergonomic setup with your desk in order to improve your posture. If you notice that you start to fidget throughout the day and you start to get more and more uncomfortable throughout the day, then you may need to look at your posture. If you sit too long for a few days or weeks or even months, you may not start to feel the effects of your posture on your body, however, after a prolonged amount of time, you may start to get muscle tightness, which can lead to pain and dysfunction.  You need to make sure your desk is set up in the most ergonomic way possible, which may include getting a lumbar support to improve your posture and help support your back.  Using a lumbar support can decrease the pressure on your spine and prevent muscle injury and pain.  You can even use a lumbar support in your car, so if you are someone who has a long commute to and from work, this may be something to consider both for your desk chair and for your car.  

When you sit at your desk, make sure you are sitting upright with your back straight and with your shoulders down and back.  You want to make sure that you are sitting evenly with equal weight on both of your hips and your knees should be bent at right angles. You can even use a foot stool to make sure that your knees are a little higher than your hips and try to avoid crossing your legs to avoid muscle imbalance.  You can also adjust your chair height to make sure you are sitting correctly to decrease stress on your legs and back.

Written by L Augustyn, Physical Therapist

FB Note: With sedentary habits being common, and the long work days we all typically put in (and television watching that often follows for so many of us) it's not as easy as it might seem to get enough activity. It takes effort. We run a fitness company but 99% of our job involves sitting in front of the computer for very long work days - we only get to "work out" for work once or twice a month - the rest of it is on us, to find time and energy for (it can be a challenge to find both!). As mentioned above, even when you intentionally workout, that's between 30-80 minutes of your day. That leaves roughly 23 hours of the day that may be filled with little to no activity, depending on your lifestyle. Making sure that you are sitting with good posture can help minimize the problems associated with frequent, prolonged sitting, but using some of the suggested tips above may help you easily weave more activity throughout your entire day, which will bring about more health benefits and make it easier to reach or maintain a healthy bodyweight.

American Chiropractic Association website.  Tips to Maintain Good Posture Accessed 04/04/17.
Rezende LFMd, Lopes MR, Rey-Lopez JP, Matsudo VKR, Luiz ODC. Sedentary behavior and health outcomes: An overview of systematic reviews. PLOS ONE. 2014; 9(8). 
Thyfault JP, Mengmeng D, Kraus WE, Levine JA, Booth FW.  Physiology of sedentary behavior and its relationship to health outcomes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015; 47(6): 1301-1305.