Prolonged Sitting Wreaks Havoc on Your Body

Sedentary lifestyles are the cause of many serious health issues

Sedentary lifestyles are the cause of many serious health issues.
Martin Barraud/Caiaimage/Getty Images

We’re all guilty of sitting still for too many hours in a day. As televisions and computer screens attract us like moths to a flame, we’ve slowly become less active and more sedentary. When we take into account all the activities that make up a typical day, we realize that the majority of our time is spent sitting. We typically sit down while we eat, sit in the car or train as we commute back and forth to and from work, sit in a desk chair at the office, and sit on the couch at home, or sit hunched over our computers. If we happen to go out on a weekend, we typically end up sitting at a bar, restaurant, or movie theater for a few hours at a time. We don’t realize it, but sitting is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies.

Most people spend too much time sitting and not enough time being active and moving around. This leads to a sedentary lifestyle where little to no physical activity is done throughout the day. For optimum health, your body needs to spend quite a lot of time actively moving throughout the day. It’s more important to engage in small amounts of movement throughout the day rather than to save all your energy for one single workout. An easy way to increase your overall physical activity is to perform easy low-intensity physical activities throughout the entire day or activities that you can keep up with for a prolonged period of time.

Typical Daily Activity

Let’s take a look at a typical day. After you wake up, you may work out for 30 to 45 minutes, which is great for your overall health. Then you drive to work where you most likely sit at your desk and work at your computer for 4 hours straight before you get a break to eat lunch. After lunch, you’re back at your desk, burdened with computer work for at least another 4 hours. As soon as the workday is over, you drive home in rush hour traffic, eat dinner, and unwind by watching television, surfing the internet, or reading the book for a few hours before going to bed. Overall, you’re sitting in the car, sitting at your desk, sitting while you eat, sitting on the couch at home and laying down when you sleep. That’s a lot of sitting and inactivity.

Even if you work out for 30 minutes a day, do you realize that you’re still sedentary for the remaining 98% of the entire day? 30 minutes only represents 2% of a day, which is a very small period of time to dedicate to one of the most important factors for your health: physical activity. It’s definitely important to accomplish your daily 30 minutes of exercise at the very least, but this is not enough to counteract the overwhelming effects of sitting and a sedentary lifestyle in the majority of your time.

Health Consequences of a Sedentary Lifestyle

The consequences of a sedentary lifestyle include a slower metabolism, postural problems, musculoskeletal pain, increased risks of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, increased risk of cancer mortality, cognitive decline, decreased lean muscle, bone loss, depression, weight gain, a weakened immune system, and poor nutrient absorption.

During periods of physical inactivity, a very powerful biological process in your body is hindered. This process includes reactions that help break down fats and deliver the nutrients from these fats to various tissues, muscles, and organs, including your heart, and is regulated by an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase. This enzyme is made by your skeletal muscle and adipose (fat) tissue. It breaks down triglycerides (fats) so they can be absorbed into the cells of your tissues and various organs, including the heart. Lipoprotein lipase is almost completely suppressed in skeletal muscle when the body goes through periods of time without physical activity, such as prolonged sitting.

This deficiency of lipoprotein lipase creates serious problems for the body. On a cellular level, you need lipids (fats) for energy production and structural regeneration of your cells and your organs. Prolonged periods of physical inactivity starve these cells of their nutrients because of low lipoprotein lipase levels. Taking this into consideration, we can see how important it is to keep moving throughout the day. This why a single 30-minute burst of physical activity daily is not enough to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle for the remaining 98% of your day.

The New Smoking

Sitting has been called “the new smoking” because it raises your risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, including colon cancer, endometrial cancer, breast and lung cancer, and a number of other health problems. Sitting for just two hours straight is even enough to begin increasing your risk for these conditions.

Physical activity is so crucial for your body because it prevents insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes, decreases risks of many cancers, helps reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, prevents bone loss, increases lean muscle tissue, and helps fight depression and weight gain. Fortunately, there are many ways to incorporate health and fitness into your daily activities while you still get your work done.

One of the easiest ways to break up long periods of time spent sitting is by taking regular breaks. On each break, your goal should be simply to get up and move around. Breaking up a sedentary period of time with just one walking step, has been shown to lead to a healthier waist circumference, blood sugar levels, body mass index (BMI), and triglyceride and cholesterol levels, than people who don’t take these small activity breaks.

How to Increase Your Movement

Here are 6 easy ways to increase your movement throughout a typically sedentary day:

1. Schedule in 10 minute breaks at the same time every day and dedicate it to an activity of your choice.

2. Park farther away from your work or anywhere you drive to.

3. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

4. Move around, stand up and stretch for a few minutes during every hour. You can simply wiggle around, take a few steps back and forth or march in place.

5. Stand up when you’re talking on the phone.

6. Replace your desk with a standing desk and/or replace your desk chair with a stability ball. Stability balls can help strengthen your core as you improve balance and flexibility.

Studies show that people who spend more time sitting still at their cars, desks, and in front of the computer and television, have a greater chance of dying from heart disease. Despite routine exercise, people who are sedentary for 23 hours a week are 64% more likely to die of heart disease than people who are sedentary for less than 11 hours a week. When people sit or lay down for prolonged periods of time, their metabolisms also slow down because the major muscles in the body are not moving. Essentially, sitting for long periods sends the body into a mini-shutdown phase. The best antidote for a sedentary lifestyle is physical activity. It’s crucial to take many mini-breaks throughout the day to break up longer periods of sitting.

Problems With Posture

In order for your body to work optimally, your joints need to be aligned properly without unnecessary compressive forces creating problems. Unless you’re trying to achieve the Hunchback of Notre Dame look, your body is not meant to be draped over a desk or a computer all day long. The more time you spend hunched over and in a badly seated posture, the better your body gets at maintaining the hunched over position even after you get up from your chair. Take a look at a person’s spine that has worked over a desk for many years and doesn’t have a particularly active lifestyle. If you watch him walk, you’ll likely see how difficult it is for that person to stand up straight and straighten out his neck and spine.

Sedentary lifestyles create problems with posture as the body has to unnaturally adapt to the chair by remaining stiff and still for long periods of time. Some people develop back pain as a result of the excessive arch in their low back region, creating a postural distortion pattern in parts of their lumbar spine (low back), pelvic girdle, and hip joints. This distortion pattern can also change the length of certain muscles. After sitting for a while, the muscles in the hip flexor complex become locked into a shortened position. Over time, the body adapts by shortening these muscles and making them feel tight, which pull the pelvis and lumbar spine out of their proper postural alignment and extends the hips backward.

As a result, the opposing muscle group to the hip flexors complex (the gluteus maximus) experiences a decrease in activation, strength, and function. The combination of tight hip flexors and weak gluteus muscles ultimately leads to lower back pain. A good exercise to fix the problem is to lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor and perform a back bridge, where you push off your shoulders and push from your heels in order to pick your torso up from the floor while squeezing your backside. Slowly lift and slowly lower, squeezing the muscles in your rear end and in your core in order to counteract the effects of sitting on your posture. Perform 1 to 2 sets of back bridges of 10-15 repetitions per set, every day. Strengthening your core with bridges is a great way to improve your posture and fight lower back pain.

The most important fact to take away from this article is that physical activity is very important. As a matter of fact, let’s take it a step further and call physical activity the “Fountain of Youth”. The more you move, the healthier you will be. Do everything in your power to take mini breaks throughout the day and move around in order to improve your health and how you feel. The best way to prevent a sedentary lifestyle is to do mall amounts of movement throughout the entire day so your body never spends too much time in a seated position.

About the Author - Jay Cardiello is a Health Strategist, Celebrity Trainer and author of the No Diet Plan. For fit tips, news and recipes, check out Jay's website at

View Article Sources