The human body is not designed to sit for prolonged periods of time, yet most people are guilty of sitting too much. Most of the world has been ordered to shelter at home unless working as an essential employee during the COVID-19 pandemic, so sitting has become the new norm for many.
Numerous studies show that a sedentary lifestyle causes a wide range of negative effects on the body, however, most of these effects can be addressed with some simple changes in day to day life.
Are You Sitting Too Much?
Too much sitting overall, whether you’re at a desk at work or on the couch in front of the television, along with prolonged periods of sitting (2 hours or more) increase the risk of numerous health problems and injuries. Research shows that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense exercise a day can counteract most of the negative effects of sitting too much, and another study points out that standing for 30 minutes each hour will help produce better health benefits.
The Impact of Too Much Sitting
While one may associate sitting with relaxation, sitting for long periods of time actually puts a lot of stress on the joints and muscles. The human body is built to stand upright: the heart and cardiovascular system work more effectively, the bowel functions more efficiently, and physical activity results in higher energy levels, increased endurance, stronger bones, and a better mental state.
Prolonged sitting is also known to cause fluid retention, weight gain, swollen legs, aching feet, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and pain in various parts of the body:
Stiff Shoulders and Neck
Spending time hunched over a computer keyboard or smartphone will lead to stiffness and pain in the neck and shoulders.
Because of the body’s natural posture and curvature of the spine, long periods of sitting can cause chronic pain in the upper and lower back. When standing, a healthy spine has a slight S-shaped curve that absorbs stress caused by movement and gravity. The small bones in the spine (vertebrae) have discs in between them. The discs are hard and sturdy on the outside and soft and gel-like on the inside, and function as shock absorbers during movement.
Sitting causes the spine to compress, putting a lot of pressure on the discs as well as the back muscles and ligaments. The discs can bulge or herniate, and if that happens, the muscles around it constrict to hold everything in place to attempt to prevent further damage. Prolonged periods of strain and pressure are not only uncomfortable, but can also cause chronic pain.
When seated, the hip flexor muscles shorten. Sitting for long periods of time can lead to problems with the hip joints.
Weak Legs and Gluteal Muscles
The large leg and gluteal muscles will weaken if not used regularly. These muscles are used to support and stabilize the body, so atrophy increases the risk of injury both from falls and from strains when exercising.
Ways To Counteract the Effects of Too Much Sitting
Movement and exercise will contribute to better health. Whether one is required to sit all day for work, or chooses to binge watch Netflix while sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are ways to incorporate more movement and physical activity.
- Set an alarm to take a break from sitting every 30 minutes
- Walk around the house while talking on the phone
- Walk around the office
- Stand while watching television
- Try a standing desk, or use a high table or counter for the same effect
- Go for a walk
- Run (or walk) up and down the stairs
- Try an online workout
Any type of movement can have a profound effect. The body will burn more calories, which can lead to weight loss and an increase in energy. Activity helps with muscle tone, coordination, and mental health as well.
While sitting all day (especially for those who work at a desk) cannot be avoided, there are still ways to incorporate movement and activity in order to stay strong and live a more healthy life.
When to Seek Professional Help
Although simple lifestyle changes often alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by prolonged sitting, chronic pain can still persist. Orthopedic specialists can examine and diagnose the problem areas and recommend treatment plans to address the situation.
The staff at OrthoExpress is available to assist with any discomfort, injury, or concern about participating in physical activity. Our clinic is located at 104 Chelsea Point Drive in Chelsea, Alabama 35043 which is just a short 20 minutes from Birmingham. We are open 7 days a week and walk-ins are welcome! You can also call us at 205-677-0001 or contact us to let us know you’re on your way.