Thanks to our modern and fast-paced lifestyle, we are slowly turning into ‘couch potatoes!’ Our homes and offices are no different. Think about it. Often people spend 9 hours sitting at their office desk and the remaining hours on your sofa binge-watching their favorite Netflix shows.
Sadly the sedentary lifestyle seems difficult to give up. And if your daily routine has got you sitting at a desk or in a car seat for hours, you most probably fall into this category.
Can sitting for hours be equally harmful as smoking?
Being deskbound, i.e., sitting for a significant chunk of the day takes a considerable toll on your overall health. It can reduce your life expectancy and maybe that is the reason why sitting is now called “the new smoking.” From our office chairs to our heated car seats to our comfy couches at home, we spend a lot of time sitting.
Sitting for too long has its own downside, and yes it is ugly. In addition to the relaxation it offers, this activity comes with a number of health risks. Not moving at all puts too much pressure on your spine, and you gradually ‘slouch,’ hence resulting in a poor body posture.
So the question is – what all can go wrong in your body when you just keep sitting?
Sitting can affect Your Spine!
A sedentary lifestyle can disturb the natural curvature of the spine. This not only affects the posture but also affects the muscle length and strength. People who sit more are more susceptible to disc damage and rupture.
Your body is designed to move
Muscles stay strong and healthy only when they are actively used. If you don’t use your muscles, they not only deteriorate, but the process has significant adverse effects on the body. Sitting for countless hours doesn’t allow muscles to move. What’s worse is that it also plays a major role in making one obese, lazy and highly inactive.
When you keep moving, stand or even sit up, your core muscles maintain your posture. But the moment you slump, your glutes, hips, and abs do absolutely nothing and become short and tight. Remember that limited range of motion is a serious concern for everyone, not just athletes, and especially for seniors.
Problems caused by being deskbound usually start with slightly annoying neck and back pain that with time becomes unbearable. Bending your neck towards your computer or tilting your head to view your screen can put additional stress on your cervical vertebrae.
While physical aches can be treated with physiotherapy and even medicines, the relief is only meant for a short term. What happens is that prolonged sitting distorts the natural shape of the spine. This means your back muscles have to work harder to lift your body weight against gravity.
Your organs can become damaged
Studies reveal that sitting (for too long and that too not in the right way) can lead to various diseases including fluctuating blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, strokes, depression, anxiety, colon cancer, breast cancer and diabetes.
When you sit for a long time, your blood flows sluggishly which allows fatty acids to clog the heart. Prolonged sitting can lead to high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels.
The reason why prolonged sitting increases your risk of endometrial, colon and breast cancer is unclear. But the study says that sedentary lifestyle trigger insulin release which further encourages potentially cancer-causing cell growth.
Sitting for a long time slows down blood circulation which leads to fluid accumulation in the legs. You might end up with swollen ankles and dangerous blood clots – even deep vein thrombosis.
You can’t think clearly!
When your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, everything slows down including concentration, focus, and attention. Physical activity, on the other hand, helps pump fresh blood and oxygen to your head which triggers the release of brain function and mood enhancing chemicals.
So what can you do?
So what are the healthy alternatives to sitting? Well, there are a number of solutions, and the best part is that they all guarantee good posture as well as a healthy and active lifestyle.
First of all, the one thing we need to realize is that sitting will continue to be an integral part of our daily life. It is essential that we modify it in a way that is healthy, effective and most importantly, right!
To make sure your sitting does not affect your spine, you must get yourself one of those hard lumbar pillows as they correct the way you sit. Make sure you hold your body upright against gravity as it not only lessens but also evenly distributes the strain on the spine.
In addition to correcting your sitting posture, there are various other things that you can resort to including stretching, taking short breaks from sitting to move around, exercising, eating a balanced diet, etc.
Stand Up and Stretch!
If your job requires you to remain glued to a chair, it is crucial that you get moving. Standing up at least twice every hour to take a short walk for a few minutes would surely not make any difference. You can choose to take small breaks and move around for a while. This would not only give your brain a chance to relax but also help reduce the load on your spine. Moreover, your eyes, neck and shoulder muscles would get the opportunity to de-stress.
Also, to minimize the harmful effects of over-sitting, you can stretch your arms and legs while sitting. Going for a standing desk is highly recommended as it eliminates remaining seated entirely.
Apart from the stretches and moving around in the office only, you must create a fitness plan and follow it strictly.
According to the World Health Organisation, a moderately intense aerobic workout of at least two and half hours per week is mandatory to avoid back pain. However, some people might prefer intense gym workouts so you can go with whatever suits you best.
No matter what type of exercise you go for, you must ensure that you do not skip it. Consistency is more than necessary here. A regular fitness routine would help you improve your body posture, strengthen muscles and bones and burn fat at the same time, all of which help enhance your immune system.
To avoid the adverse effects of sitting, you have to adopt an active lifestyle. You can integrate some physical activities into your everyday life. These activities include all types of physical work such as sports, house chores, cycling, swimming or even running to the grocery store.
Watch What You Eat
Last but not the least, you must give attention to your diet plan because you are what you eat, right? Well, it is vital that you implement some simple changes in eating habits to make your body and immune system stronger than ever. Consuming oily and junk food brings nothing but bad fats, which apparently not only makes us obese but also destroys our immune system.
And let’s face it, people who love junk and processed foods tend to get lazier day by day, which then leads to a bad posture. Make sure you only consume what is healthy and wholesome. If you think your body weight might be one of the reasons for back pain, you can change your eating habits and choose activities that put little to no strain on your back muscles.
Once you change your diet and adopt an active lifestyle, you will have a significantly high level of muscular and cardiovascular fitness along with an excellent body posture. With a healthier body mass and weight, sitting would not be much of an issue for you.