The Hidden Costs of Sitting All Day

If you work in an office and sit for more than 6 hours a day, then this post is for you.

To put things bluntly, we were not made to sit all day.  But many of us spend more than half of our waking hours sitting, either in the office, in the car, or at home on the couch.

The effects of sitting all day are also impacted by diet and other risk factors (weight, smoker or non-smoker, drinks).

We all know that sitting for prolonged periods is bad for us. That information isn’t new, but what you may not know is the actual effects it has on the body in a very short period of time.

 

Image courtesy of Lifehacker.com
Image courtesy of Lifehacker.com

 

Immediately after sitting down, your calorie-burning rate drops to about one calorie per minute. This is a third of what it does when you’re walking. Within a week of sitting longer than you’re standing/walking, the body will start to increase fatty molecules, LDL cholesterol (the kind we DON’T want), and insulin resistance. What does this mean? Our blood sugar levels go up and our muscles stop taking in fat, which puts us at risk for weight gain. After 2 weeks? Muscles will start to atrophy and our maximum oxygen consumption drops. This makes taking the stairs feel harder.

What’s even more disturbing is that long-term (10-20 years) sitting over six hours a day can literally shave off up to seven quality years of our life.

On top of these hidden effects, there are also the more acute physical effects that we can feel after sitting for extended periods, especially when hunched in front of a computer: lower back pain, wrist/carpel tunnel pain, tight neck, lack of mobility, sore shoulders, headaches, etc. Since starting to work in an office again just a month ago, I have already started to notice some of these physical issues coming back myself. With my office job during the day and more hours spent in front of the computer at home researching, writing articles, and connecting with people, I can often spend up to 10+ hours a day in front of a computer.

 

Those are a lot of hours!

 

Sure, I work out consistently, eat well, and keep myself fit. But is that enough to counteract the fact that there are days I sit for hours without moving from my chair?  Possibly, but maybe not: a recent study showed that exercising after work isn’t enough to prevent disease. Long periods of sitting were associated with heightened risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death – even for those who exercised at other times of the day.

Writing this post was in part a selfish act. I wanted to figure out ways to counteract the negative effects of sitting in front of a desk on myself. And then it occurred to me that a majority of my readers are likely in a similar situation, whether it be at the office or at home as their way to relax. So what can we do to counter these effects? We obviously can’t just quit our office jobs…so that’s not a realistic option. There are ways to battle these negative effects of sitting.

 

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What Can We Do? 

Before I even get into some of the things we can do to counteract the negative effects of sitting all day, I’m going to throw something out there. Some of these suggestions are going to make you look silly at work. Stretching at your desk is not something that you see in the office very often, and I think that’s just sad. Bringing awareness to this issue is important, and the only way to do that is for people to do something about it.

But if you’re overly concerned with how others are going to perceive you if you stand-up from your desk to stretch your hip flexors, then I can’t help you. Ladies, if you’re wearing a dress or skirt that makes stretching difficult, then at least bring a pair of running shoes and walk around on your breaks/lunches and stretch in the morning and when you get home.

 

5 minutes of standing for every thirty minutes of sitting.  That’s the recommended minimum to help break up the lack of activity. Get up from that chair and walk around a bit. Use the bathroom, fill-up the water bottle, say hi to some colleagues.

 

Or. Do some stretches.

When we sit down, our hip flexors tend to get tight. These are a group of muscles that help us move or flex our leg and knee up towards our body. Tight hip flexors mean the area around our hips feels tight and stiff. Not comfortable but a very familiar feeling for many of us.

If there is ONE stretch you do while at the office, it’s a hip flexor stretch, and there are different ways to do it.  My two favourite would be the kneeling hip flexor stretch and the pigeon stretch. Depending on your current mobility, the kneeling hip flexor stretch may be a better place to start.

 

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneeling down with one knee on the ground and the other leg in front of you, drive your hip forward until you feel a stretch in your groin area. Keep your core engaged and your back straight. You can put your hands on your bent knee to help support you.

Image courtesy of bodybuilding.com
Image courtesy of bodybuilding.com

 

Pigeon Stretch
Bring the heel of your front leg to the pants pocket on your other leg. This will align your hips and allow you to drive the hips into the floor. Only go so far that you feel a stretch, no pain.

Image courtesy of dailyburn.com
Image courtesy of dailyburn.com

 

Just start with one small thing. Set a timer on your email to go off every hour to remind you to get up and move around for a bit. It’s not the 30min ideal, but it’s a start, and that’s the most important thing!

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