- Healthy living
- Downside of sitting
The downside of sitting
Our bodies are designed to be up and moving when we are working and playing, and to be seated only when resting. Many of our jobs have become more sedentary, with long days sitting at a desk. An inactive lifestyle, which can include sitting at a desk for a large part of the day, getting around by sitting in a car or bus, spending time watching TV or surfing the Internet while seated, can affect our bodies in several ways. For example, it can lead to the following:1
Excessive sitting occurs in most people in modern society because of sociological, behavioural and biological cues. Excessive sitting is a common pathway that contributes to numerous chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and multiple types of cancer. Physiological and molecular mechanisms can explain these associations2
Health problems related to too much sitting<sup>1,3,7,8</sup>
- Premature death - Most sedentary people had a 22–49% greater risk of early death
- Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer - Long-term sedentary behavior increases your risk of health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Inactivity is believed to play a direct role in the development of insulin resistance
- Metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels) – The major cause of metabolic syndrome include overweight and obesity and physical inactivity
- Obesity - Research shows that people with obesity sit for an average of two hours longer each day than do people with a normal weight
- Osteoporosis and Falls
If you sit for long periods of time each day working on a computer, you may be at risk for developing physical strain and overuse injuries. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, signs and symptoms may include:4
- A tingling feeling in the fingers, sore wrists, and lower back pain
- Eye strain, including redness, a feeling of dryness and/or soreness, blurry vision, and headache
- Soreness in the neck, shoulders, arms, back, thighs, and lower legs (called postural fatigue)
- Steady pain or discomfort in the muscles and tendons (called repetitive strain injury)
Steps You can take to reduce Your risk<sup>1,3</sup>
Even if your job requires you to sit at a desk and/or spend long periods of time working on a computer, there are things you can do to help avoid or prevent some of the health risks.
a. Make movement part of your workday4,5
- Take microbreaks to move, stand, stretch or walk around to get your blood circulating
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Use your break or part of your lunch hour to walk around the building
- Stand up and walk to a colleague's office instead of sending an email
- Have "walking" or standing meetings with co-workers instead of sitting in a conference room
b. Use a Standing desk1,6
- People who use a sit/stand desk had less upper back and neck pain and felt more energized, comfortable, productive, and focused than people who didn’t use one
- Use a standing desk or find tasks where you can stand, such as talking on the phone or reading hard copy reports. Put your file cabinet on the other side of the room so that you have to walk to it
c. Set up your workstation properly and pay attention to your posture4,5
- Your computer screen should be about an arm’s length away from you and the top of your monitor should be at forehead level. This will help you avoid having to look up or down
- Your keyboard and mouse should be at a height that keeps your elbows at your side and bent at 90 degrees. This will help you avoid having to reach too far to use them
- When sitting, your hips and knees should be at 90-degree angles. Support your feet on the floor or foot rest
- Keep your head directly over your shoulders. Don’t lean forward toward your computer
While you may not be able to avoid sitting at a desk or working on a computer for long periods of time, following these tips can help you avoid some of the health risks of doing so. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more.
- Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle: MedlinePlus [Internet]. Medlineplus.gov. 2019 [cited 2 July 2019]. Available from https://medlineplus.gov/healthrisksofaninactivelifestyle.html
- Levine JA. Sick of sitting. Diabetologia. 2015 Aug 1;58(8):1751-8.
- Ford ES, Caspersen CJ. Sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular disease: a review of prospective studies. Int J Epidemiol. 2012;41(5):1338-1353.
- How to Sit at a Computer - OrthoInfo - AAOS [Internet]. Orthoinfo.aaos.org. 2019 [cited 3 July 2019]. Available from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/how-to-sit-at-a-computer/
- Do You Sit All Day at Work? Stand at Your Desk for Better Health [Internet]. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. 2019 [cited 3 July 2019]. Available from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/do-you- sit-all-day-at-work-stand-at-your-desk-for-better-health/
- Pronk NP, Katz AS, Lowry M, Payfer JR. Reducing occupational sitting time and improving worker health: The Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. Prev Chronic Dis. 2012;9:1-9.
- Is Sitting Too Much Bad for Your Health? [Internet]. Healthline. 2019 [cited 3 July 2019]. Available from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-sitting-is-bad-for-you#early-death
- About Metabolic Syndrome [Internet]. www.heart.org. 2019 [cited 3 July 2019]. Available from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/metabolic-syndrome/about-metabolic-syndrome