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How Much Sitting is Too Much Sitting?

20 April 2023

Let's do some quick calculation - how much of your life have you spent sitting?

We spend about a third of the time sleeping, so that narrows our day down to about 16 hours a day. From early school years to the end of our work life, we easily spend about 7-8 hours sitting at our desks, and then some once we get home.

That means that you spend a little more than about a third of your life just sitting!

While you drive, while you work, while you eat, while you binge through the latest Netflix series - when you think about it, it's actually surprising just how much we sit!

While sitting itself isn't bad - we were given the ability to sit for a reason, after all! - it's when you sit too much that it becomes a problem.

But how much sitting is too much? How can sitting too much affect you, and how can you prevent these issues?

Sitting Too Much

Before we go into all the pesky problems that stem from spending too much time sitting, let's first define what we mean by too much. You may not feel like you've been sitting as much as we calculated above, but it's actually quite easy to fall into the rhythm of your monotonous work week and lose track of how much time you spend idle.

Research shows that people who spend more than eight hours a day sitting are at risk of a whole bunch of problems. On top of that, if you sit a lot and don't get any other exercise, the risk becomes greater.

So, for the average person you could say that eight hours is a lot - probably not the minimum, but still a lot - and for someone who can't or doesn't get much movement otherwise, the minimum amount you can sit per day without harm gets lesser.

That means defining too much is a bit tricky, since it depends on the person involved. But since most of us fall into the average, we can assume that if we're spending eight hours a day sitting, we're already in trouble.

How Does Sitting Affect You?

Now, let's go into the real thing - why is sitting such a big deal? Does it really harm you that much if you sit?

The answer is yes. Unfortunately, sitting too much can actually be detrimental to your health, and isn't just going to cause you minor inconveniences.



Cardiovascular Health

Yes, sitting can affect your heart! Talk about inconvenience.

When you spend too much time sitting, your blood flow slows down, which gives way for fatty acids to start building up in your blood vessels. When this happens, the blood flow is disrupted and your heart doesn't get enough oxygen fast enough. It also has to work harder to deliver enough oxygen to the rest of the body.

Research shows that people who spend more time sitting have a 147% higher chance of dealing with a stroke or heart attack! That's probably not something you want to have to deal with.



Balance

Sitting for long stretches can also affect your balance! This is because sitting can weaken the leg and gluteal muscles (that's your butt) which are important for keeping you stable while you stand and walk. When these muscles are weaker, you're a lot more likely to lose your balance and injure yourself by falling over, or even straining yourself when you work out.



Gaining Weight

Obesity is frequently associated with laziness, and while obesity is a much more complicated circumstance, it's true that there is a link. While obesity can't be entirely attributed to the amount of time you spend sitting, you can blame a little bit of it to the amount of time you spend seated.

When you move about, your body digests the fats and carbs you eat, and thus your body doesn't end up with excess fat deposits from the calories you didn't burn. Not to mention, sitting also makes digestion less efficient than it would be otherwise.



Back Pain

Back pain is a very common problem, with every other person complaining about it. This is because so much of our life has been reduced to staying still.

When you sit for a long time, the muscles in your hips and back will also weaken, and won't be able to support you for too long. This causes postural problems and you end up hunching over or leaning forward. This is okay sometimes, but when you consider the 8+ hours you spend this way, the risk becomes so much greater.

With bad posture, your body is put in awkward positions which makes your muscles even weaker. As a result, you end up with various aches and pains at best, and spinal degeneration at worst. Neither of these are very fun to deal with, and in the long run can cause bigger problems.



Mental Health

Sitting for too long can also affect your mental health. While the link between it isn't as clear as it is for sitting and physical health, research shows that the link does exist. One possible explanation is that physical exercise results in the release of dopamine and endorphins, which help regulate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

When you consider that these problems are already so widespread, adding too much sitting to the mix may just be making it worse.



Diabetes

Another problem that stems from sitting is that your body's insulin resistance levels go up, which causes your blood sugar levels to rise. This, and the risk of obesity and fatty acid buildup in your blood vessels, increases the risk of diabetes, which is a lifelong problem and has no cure.

Prevention is definitely a better option on this one!

Preventing The Side Effects of Sitting

So, we know sitting is probably not the best for your health, but how do you prevent the problem?



Sit-Stand Desks

The most obvious solution to a problem stemming from too much sitting would be to simply sit less. Unfortunately, this is not very easy because so much of our tasks demand us to be sitting. For example, how do you sit less when you spend 8 hours at your desk every day?

Sit-stand desks are your answer! A good sit-stand desk like Flexispot's Comhar All-in-One Standing Desk can help you offset some of the negative effects. This is because you can switch between sitting and standing while you work.

Standing while working also improves productivity and posture, on top of keeping you sitting less. It's also recommended that you sit and stand at shorter intervals rather than do either for too long. Standing too much isn't that great for you either.



Be More Active

You'd be surprised how much you can reduce the negative effects of sitting by simply moving about more. We definitely spend more time sitting than we do moving about, but you can reduce at least some of that.

For example, you can walk to work instead of taking the car - or part of the way, if the trip is too long - or use the stairs instead of using an elevator. You can also do some simple exercises at home while watching TV, instead of lying on the sofa.

But be careful! You do want to get rid of the risks posed by sitting, but you don't want to add more risks there either. If you've been spending a less active life, ease into it, rather than rushing into the exercise all at once.



Posture

Even if you have to sit for long periods, you can try and get rid of some of the more immediate problems by watching your posture. Invest in a good ergonomic chair to keep your posture from deteriorating and protect yourself from problems like musculoskeletal disorders, repetitive stress injuries and nerve compression - all of which are caused by bad posture.



Take Breaks Between Work

Even with a standing desk, make sure you're taking breaks between work! Stretch a bit between the tasks you're doing, and at regular intervals to make sure you're not just going from a sedentary sitting lifestyle to a sedentary standing one.

While the latter is still better, it's not necessarily good for you either.

Take a ten minute break every hour or so, and walk around a bit to get the blood flowing and get your muscles moving. Doing this will keep you from feeling tired when you're finally done with your work, and will also keep your circulatory system from being affected too much.

So, take a stand against the negative effects of sitting and start sitting less! You'd find yourself feeling a lot more productive and energetic, even after an exhausting work day.