5 Unhealthy Side Effects of Sitting All Day

A man stretching at his desk

A man stretching at his desk | Source: iStock

The very reason you may have shelled out over $10,000 a year for a college education may have been to avoid manual labor or working outdoors, two things that are notoriously hard on your body. What you may have obtained (along with some college debt) was a well-paying desk job. While six of the seven highest paying jobs are desk jobs, it turns out that physically, sitting all day may be just as bad, if not worse than being on your feet. Sitting is the new smoking and according to Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Yes, you read that right. Even if you’re one of those people who without fail gets in a full, hour long workout everyday, that burst of exercise isn’t enough to counteract the nine to 10 hours an average U.S. adult spends sitting down each day. Here’s what’s happening to your body when you spend such significant time in a chair.

1. Organ damage

Forget about backaches, what you should really be worried about is the impact of sitting on your internal organs. When you sit for a long period of time your muscles burn less fat and your blood begins to flow slowly, allowing fatty acids to easily clog your heart. Sitting has been linked to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, your pancreas may over produce insulin, which can lead to diabetes, and studies have linked sitting to a greater risk for developing colon, breast, and endometrial cancers.

2. Muscle degeneration

weight gain

Weight gain | Source: iStock

You know those rock-hard abs you’ve been working towards? Keep in mind that sitting does nothing to help that six-pack peek through. When you’re standing your abdominal muscles are tensed and tightened, but when you sit, those muscles go unused, ultimately leading to a weak mid-section. Sitting can also impact the mobility of your hips and the strength of your glutes. Sitting in a chair all day will make your hips tight with a more limited degree of motion because they are rarely extended. Your glutes can weaken with lack of use affecting your stability and power when walking and jumping.

3. Weight gain

This one is fairly obvious. No one who sits for nine or more hours a day is disillusioned enough to believe that sitting down is great for the waistline. Obese people typically sit for two and a half more hours per day than thin people. Between 1980 and 2000 while exercise rates remained the same, obesity doubled as time spent sitting increased by 8%.

4. Loss of brainpower

a man sitting at his desk with bad posture

Bad posture | Source: iStock

When you sit at your desk you may be solving all sorts of problems, organizing tasks, and using plenty of critical thinking skills, but even in the most stimulating of jobs your brain can become foggy from sitting for long periods of time. Moving muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen to the brain, which triggers the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. Your brain function will actually slow when you’re sedentary for long periods of time.

5. Back and neck pain

One of the most common and very physical symptoms of living much of your life in a seated position is the presence of back and neck pain. Cradling a phone to your ear and jutting your neck and head forward while working at a computer leads to strains in your cervical vertebrae which causes neck strain, sore shoulders, and back pain. The very act of sitting puts added pressure on your spine and compresses the disks that make up your back.

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