Nearly every job in today’s society requires prolonged sitting. While a moderate amount of sitting is certainly not bad for you, spending every minute of your workday glued to your chair will inevitably affect your health. So much so that some have said, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It sounds kind of dramatic, but it might be true.
Here are four reasons why sitting is the new smoking (and a solution to each):
Reason #1: Sitting cuts off circulation
It has long been recognized that sitting affects blood flow to the legs. But by how much? And how bad is it?
A new study showed that subjects who sat for three hours had up to a 33% reduction in artery dilation. According to the study, what is alarming about this number is that a mere 1% decline is blood flow increases the chances of cardiovascular disease by 13%. This explains why people on long plane rides and patients who are bed ridden often end up with blood clots in their legs.
Solution: Do not sit too long without getting up. A good idea is to set an alarm on your phone or fit bit to remind you to stand up every 30-60-minutes. Also, ensure that minimal pressure is put on your blood vessels by getting a properly fitted chair that spreads the weight load over the larger area of your legs and buttocks.
Reason #2: Sitting puts stress on the spine
Lumbar spine curvature. The lumbar spine, or lower back, has an inward curve which decreases the stress on the discs and other structures of the spine. When prolonged sitting reverses the curve, the symptoms of back ache and discomfort typically present.
Bulging discs. Patients with a bulged disc or discs experience increased pain when sitting for too long. They may also make their disc worse, which can, in turn, put additional pressure on already compressed spinal nerves.
Sacroiliac joints. Sitting puts pressure on the joints that attach the spine to the pelvis (sacroiliac joints). Pain is experienced in the buttocks and legs.
Solution: Get a chair with a lumbar support. Periodically stand up, lean back and push your hips forward to stretch your spine. This will counteract the negative effects of sitting.
Reason #3: Sitting at a desk can cause neck and shoulder pain
Leaning forward puts the shoulder at an anatomical disadvantage. Over time, the muscles in the rotator cuff can be pinched between the bones of the shoulder in a condition known as shoulder impingement syndrome. Additionally, muscle pain and tightness can occur due to the neck and shoulders rounding and tilting forward.
Solution: Elevate your computer screen to eye level and make sure it is in front of you instead of to the side. If you use the phone all day, use a telephone headset to ease the stress on your neck and shoulders.
Reason #4: Sitting is not active
People are supposed to be active. Bodies are not made to sit still. Many of the body’s systems are at their healthiest when people are moving: lungs fill with air, blood moves freely, joints become flexible, the mind can think more clearly.
Calf muscles assist the heart. As people walk around, the calf muscles pump blood out of the legs towards the heart. When sitting, the heart has to do all the work by itself. This leads to slower circulation, swelling in the ankles, and possibly blood clot formation.
Joints need to be healthy. Cartilage receives nutrients through the synovial fluid in the joints. When sitting, the fluid is not circulating and the cartilage may suffer over time. In extreme cases, joint replacement may become necessary.
Muscles need to move to prevent atrophy. Healthy muscles support the joints and spine. “If you are not using them, you are losing them.” Spending a large part of the day in a chair can make muscles weaker, affect balance and can cause unsupported joints to begin to ache.
Solution: Make sure you get up regularly throughout your work day and walk around. Take your breaks standing. To counteract the effects of sitting, think about exercising at lunch or after work.
Conclusion – Sitting is the New Smoking
You now know four reasons why “sitting might be the new smoking.” And more importantly, you have a solution to each. If you need help immediately, call us at (985)792-5996 and one of our staff members will be happy to assist you.
This information is designed to educational in nature about lifestyle strategies to improve musculoskeletal pain. It is not intended to diagnose or treat or cure any medical condition, disease, injury or illness. If you feel you have a condition that needs medical care you should seek help from a doctor or hospital.