Sitting is a common activity in our daily lives, with the average American doing it for 10 hours per day. Despite its prevalence, sitting is unnatural for the human body and can have detrimental consequences on our health. In this article, we will discuss the impact of sitting on various bodily systems, long-term health risks, and practical ways to counteract the damage caused by prolonged inactivity.
Impact on Skeletal and Muscular Systems
Sitting causes the spine to curve, placing unequal pressure on the bones and discs, leading to inflammation and strained muscles. Chronic rigidity in the hamstring, calves, and inner hip can occur, while some ligaments and joints become overloaded. These muscle imbalances, combined with wear and tear on spinal discs, contribute to lower back pain.
Respiratory System Consequences
When sitting, the chest cavity’s size is reduced, limiting lung expansion during respiration. Consequently, oxygen levels in the bloodstream decrease. Exacerbated thoracic kyphosis from sitting restricts the chest cavity further, impairing the lungs’ efficiency during inhalation and exhalation.
Digestive System Disruptions
Sitting compresses internal organs, limiting the space for food to move through the body. As a result, digestion slows down, and weakened abdominal muscles from excessive sitting may lead to constipation.
Circulatory System Implications
Sitting compresses the circulatory system, interfering with blood flow. Just two hours in a chair leads to a 20% reduction in good cholesterol and a drop in lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down fat in the blood. Consequently, the body’s fat-burning rate decreases. After three hours in a chair, arterial dilation is reduced by 50%, constricting blood vessels and causing limbs to swell.
Lymphatic and Urinary System Issues
Prolonged sitting causes blood and lymph stagnation in the pelvic area, creating favorable conditions for pathogen development.
Nervous System Consequences
Sitting compresses nerves, causing tingling or numbness in the limbs and limiting brain signals. Vertebral arteries, which provide 20% of blood flow to the brain, become compressed, reducing oxygen levels and affecting concentration and brain activity.
Health Risks of Persistent Immobility
Long-term lack of activity and extended periods of sitting increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, liver problems, and some forms of cancer. Research links sedentary behavior to more than
30 chronic diseases and conditions. Immobility significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes (100% increased risk) and heart disease (147% increased risk). UCLA researchers have also found that sedentary behavior is associated with thinning brain regions critical for memory and information processing.
Metabolic and hormonal changes caused by inactivity
Being inactive for prolonged periods of time can have negative effects on a person’s metabolic and hormonal levels. Reduced physical activity can lead to decreased metabolic rate, lower insulin sensitivity, and lowered levels of growth hormone. These changes can increase the risk of weight gain and obesity, as well as the development of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. It is important to incorporate physical activity into daily routines to combat the negative effects of prolonged inactivity.
Decreased metabolic rate
An inactive lifestyle leads to a decreased metabolic rate, which means the body burns fewer calories even during low-intensity activities. This causes a greater risk of weight gain and obesity. When the body isn’t burning off calories at a sufficient rate, the glucose in the bloodstream isn’t being utilized properly. This results in the body becoming less insulin sensitive, which is a predictor of diabetes. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate physical activity on a daily basis to maintain a healthy metabolic rate and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases associated with sedentary living.
Reduced insulin sensitivity
Reduced insulin sensitivity is a common consequence of prolonged physical inactivity. Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin, can lead to elevated levels of glucose in the blood and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. The insulin signaling pathway, which is critical for glucose homeostasis, involves a variety of genes and proteins that can become dysfunctional if physical activity is insufficient. Regular exercise has been shown to stimulate these pathways, promoting insulin sensitivity and improving glucose metabolism. Incorporating physical activity into one’s daily routine is essential for maintaining optimal health and preventing metabolic disorders.
Lowered levels of growth hormone
Lowered levels of growth hormone can be a result of prolonged inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle. Growth hormone plays an important role in the body, aiding in the repair and regeneration of tissues, and helping to maintain a healthy body composition. When levels of growth hormone are reduced, it can lead to increased body fat, decreased muscle mass, and a slower metabolism. This can contribute to weight gain and an increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine can help to increase levels of growth hormone and improve overall health.
Increased risk of weight gain and obesity
Living a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an increased risk of weight gain and obesity. When the body does not move enough, it burns fewer calories and stores more fat, ultimately leading to weight gain. Additionally, an inactive lifestyle can lead to a weaker metabolism, making it more difficult for the body to break down fats and sugars. Unfortunately, this can create a vicious cycle, as weight gain further reduces physical activity and increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To combat these risks, it is important to incorporate more physical activity into daily life and break up prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity.
Higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer
When it comes to inactivity, it’s not just physical effects that you need to worry about. People who spend long hours sitting every day are at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. This is due to a range of factors, including the impact of a sedentary lifestyle on metabolism and hormone production, as well as the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time on muscle atrophy, lower metabolism, and poor circulation. So if you want to reduce your risk of chronic disease, it’s important to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine.
How to Counteract the Negative Effects
To mitigate the adverse effects of sitting, consider the following:
- Practice correct posture: Sit with weight symmetrically distributed on both sides of your body, using back- and armrests for additional support. Maintain normal spinal curvatures and a 90-degree angle at your hips. Keep screens or papers at arm’s length and eye level.
- Invest in a standing desk: Working in an upright position helps alleviate many issues associated with sitting.
- Take regular breaks: Aim to move around every 30 to 45 minutes to prevent the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Set reminders on your phone or smartwatch to help you remember.
- Incorporate daily exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, ideally in the mornings. Keep in mind that occasional exercise alone will not counteract the consequences of extended sitting.
By implementing these strategies, you can reduce the health risks associated with sitting and improve your overall well-being. Remember that a sedentary lifestyle has significant consequences, and taking proactive steps to stay active is essential for maintaining good health.