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The Dangers of Sitting Too Long

posted May 8, 2015, 6:23 AM by   [ updated Nov 4, 2015, 12:38 PM ]
By Kelly Magoffin, MS, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern. Thanks to Kelly for guest posting!

If you are like many, sitting for prolonged periods of time during the day is unavoidable due to desk jobs, long commutes, or TV binging after work. It has been reported that over half of the average person’s hours awake are spent sitting! Could all of this sitting actually be harming you? Studies have shown that prolonged sitting, defined as sitting for 8 to 12 hours per day, may be a health risk. When we sit, many of our muscles are not used, causing some processes inside the body to slow down, such as blood flow and the breakdown of fat and sugar, which ultimately can lead to many health problems, such as:

  • Increased risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
  • Poor circulation of the blood in legs
  • Muscle degeneration, especially of the abdominals and glutes
  • Increased risk for spinal disk damage
  • Strained or sore neck, shoulders, and back
  • Increased risk for premature death

But what is the solution to escape these problems if you can’t avoid sitting due to work or your commute? It might come as a surprise that going to the gym a few days a week doesn’t seem to make up for sitting the rest of the day! Even those who exercise regularly have been found to be at some risk if they are inactive or sitting for a majority of the day, though this risk is less pronounced than for those who do not exercise at all. While working to reach the physical activity guidelines is still important, the solution to help reduce the risks associated with prolonged sitting is not only to increase your activity after work. Rather, the solution is to get up and move around more throughout the workday! It is recommended to get up and move around for one to three minutes every half hour while at work.  

Easy ways to be more active during the workday:

  • Take a quick walk around the office whenever you are refilling your coffee mug
  • Stand while making phone calls
  • Walk to a coworkers desk instead of emailing them
  • Take a 5-10 min walk outside or inside your building with a coworker
    • Bonus! Even just 10 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity can count towards the physical activity guidelines. Taking a brisk 10 minute walk not only helps you to be more active throughout the work day, but can also help you meet the recommendations for physical activity!
  • Use a computer or phone app to send an alert to remind you when it is time to take a quick activity break
  • Try biking to work to add extra physical activity to your day. Join the Washington Area Bicyclist Association on Friday May 15th, 2015, for Bike to Work Day!
  • Extra Tip: Help prevent muscle degeneration and back pain by being mindful of your posture while you sit at work.

If you are interested in the science behind the problems caused by prolonged sitting, check out this infographic from the Washington Post.