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Compiled by Asanda Mbayimbayi

What are the side effects of sitting down for too long? Here’s what the research says

Uncover the consequences of extended periods of sitting on your physical well-being and general state of being.

In today’s world sitting down for extended periods has become all too common.

But beneath the surface of convenience lies a range of detrimental effects that can impact your physical health and overall well-being.

From weakened muscles to heightened health risks, there are negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, looked into how sitting for a long time can be bad for you.

10 common side effects of sitting for too long

  1. Increased Obesity

Sitting for too long makes your body burn fewer calories, which can make you gain weight and become more likely to be obese.

When you move your muscles by being active, it helps your body break down fats and sugars from what you eat.

But when you sit a lot, this process does not work as well, and your body keeps these fats and sugars as stored fat.

Remember, even if you exercise sometimes, sitting for too long can still be harmful to your health, causing things like metabolic syndrome.

New studies show to counter the risks of sitting too much, you need about 60 to 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day.

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2. Musculoskeletal Issues

Prolonged sitting can cause muscle imbalances, discomfort in the lower back, and posture troubles, impacting your overall muscle and bone health.

Doing regular stretches and exercise can help avoid these problems.

3. Cardiovascular Complications

According to Affinity Health, research has indicated sitting for long periods is linked to a higher chance of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and raised cholesterol levels.

4. Metabolic Disorders

People who sit for long periods often experience insulin resistance and have a higher likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes.

5. Reduced Brain Function

Spending extended hours sitting has an adverse effect on cognitive abilities, including memory, attention span, and creative thinking.

6. Poor circulation

Prolonged sitting can disrupt the flow of blood, which might result in swollen legs, varicose veins, and the possibility of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

7. Digestive Issues

Two main factors that harm your digestive system due to excessive sitting are reduced blood flow and added pressure on your digestive tract, leading to stomach discomfort.

Research suggests sitting too much could also negatively influence our gut microbiome, which is the mix of bacteria in our digestive system, causing a condition called dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut bacteria and is linked to different digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Celiac Disease (CD), and inflammatory bowel disease.

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8. Increased Risk Of Certain Cancers

Research has established a connection between excessive sitting and an increased probability of developing specific cancers.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed those who spend more time sitting face a significantly heightened risk of certain cancer types—up to 66% higher compared to those who sit less.

This investigation, which scrutinised 43 studies, uncovered a strong correlation between sitting and cancer, regardless of the participants’ physical activity levels.

Even individuals who maintained regular exercise routines but engaged in extended periods of sitting, particularly while watching television, exhibited elevated cancer rates compared to those who sat less.

To be precise, sedentary behavior was associated with a 24% increased risk of colon cancer, a 32% higher risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21% heightened risk of lung cancer.

Watching TV was connected to a 54% higher risk of colon cancer and a 66% higher risk of endometrial cancer. For every additional two hours of daily sitting, the risk of colon cancer rose by 8%, and the risk of endometrial cancer surged by 10%.

9. Mental Health Challenges

Being inactive is linked to a higher chance of experiencing anxiety, depression, and mood-related disorders.

10. Weakened Bone Density

Not engaging in weight-bearing activities while sitting for long periods can lead to lower bone density and a higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis, a common bone condition, weakens bones and makes them more fragile. This increased fragility significantly raises the chances of suffering bone fractures, even from minor accidents like bumps or falls. Moreover, osteoporosis can result in loss of height and a stooped posture, impacting your overall physical appearance.

ALSO READ: Constantly have a dry mouth? Here’s what could be causing it

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How many hours of sitting is healthy?

The optimal duration of daily sitting remains a topic of ongoing investigation and discussion among health experts. While pinpointing an exact number of hours that defines “too much sitting” is challenging, various guidelines and suggestions aim to encourage a more active lifestyle.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s recommended to limit extended periods of sedentary behavior, like sitting, and strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

Furthermore, the American Heart Association advises breaking up long sitting sessions every 30 minutes with brief spurts of activity.

Certain studies have indicated that sitting for more than 8 to 10 hours daily could have negative health impacts, as mentioned earlier.

In the end, achieving a balance between sitting, standing, and incorporating physical activity throughout the day is crucial. Seeking advice from a healthcare professional is advisable to receive personalised recommendations tailored to individual circumstances and health objectives.

Picture: iStock

Tips on how to reduce sitting time

  • Stand on the train or bus
  • Take the stairs and walk up escalators
  • Set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
  • Place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing
  • Stand or walk around while on the phone
  • Take a walk break every time you take a coffee or tea break
  • Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or calling
  • Swap some tv time for more active tasks or hobbies

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