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On Your Feet or On Your Seat? Health Dangers of Sitting Too Much

May 12, 2011

We’ve talked about the effects on your back health of being on your feet all day at work. What about the effects of sitting all day?

Usually when we think of sedentary life and its dangers, we’re thinking about not getting enough exercise. But people who sit all day at work may be facing some other risks — even if they get the recommended 30 minutes a day of cardio.

Stanford researchers think that the problem lies in the postural muscles — the muscles that hold you up rather than the ones that allow you to move. These are the inner muscles of the back, legs, neck, and hips, the muscles nearest the spine. These are the deepest of the core muscles, and you don’t usually feel them working.

It’s easy to ignore them. When we sit for six or more hours a day, we’re ignoring those muscles, and it seems to have an effect on our health.

The normal function of these muscles when we move seems to affect a number of other body functions:

  • blood circulation in general
  • glucose and fat regulation
  • cholesterol processing
  • heart rate and blood flow rate
  • blood flow to the legs in particular

“Your body shuts down on a metabolic level,” says one medical professional who studies this issue.

It is possible that sitting for more than four hours increases the risk of a wide range of problems ranging from diabetes to arthritis, stroke and heart disease. Some researchers have found that the risk of death from all causes is greatly increased by jobs requiring prolonged sitting.

These results hold true even for people who hit the gym before they go to spend eight hours in an office chair. What about those who sit and watch TV for another six or eight hours outside of the six or eight hours they spend sitting at work? Their risks are even greater.

If your work environment allows it, use a stability ball as your chair or a standing desk. For some tasks, a treadmill makes just as good a work station as a desk.

If your office doesn’t make this kind of change practical, get in the habit of walking while you talk on the phone, chat with coworkers, or think about problems. Run up and down the stairs to talk with colleagues instead of emailing. Ideally, you’ll be up and moving for ten minutes out of every hour.

Get in the habit of standing up and moving around throughout the day.

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