Whether you’re working in front of your laptop or watching Netflix on your mobile, today’s lifestyle requires you to spend more time in a seated position than ever before. While we all know the harmful effects of living a sedentary life, sitting for long periods can increase your risk of chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
Too much sitting can not only make you overweight or obese, but it can also disrupt your sleep or cause social anxiety besides stressing back muscles, neck and spine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the public health agency of the US, suggests one physical activity to get the body moving. It says, on an average each week, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intense physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening activity. If you’re not doing this, then it’s very well defined as a sedentary lifestyle or what we may now address as a “sitting disease”.
But why is it a disease? Experts feel sitting all day or standing or lying down— inactivity in any form—is detrimental to health. But sitting is a disease because of lack of movement. “In many ways, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to increase in blood pressure, poor mental health, high blood sugar, back pain and even excess body fat,” says Namita Piparaiya, a yoga and ayurveda lifestyle specialist.
According to Piparaiya, it’s not sitting per se, but lack of movement that is the problem. “It’s okay to sit but it’s not ok to sit continuously. So, one must take regular breaks to get up and move around a bit before sitting again. You can also walk up to a window to look outside, which is great for the eyes. Even fidgeting can be helpful,as also doing a few yoga stretches at the desk. Movement is the best antidote to this problem,” she says.
Those sitting for eight hours a day are 20% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, according to a study by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College. The research team studied over 105,677 participants—those who sat for eight or more hours a day over that time—had a 17% to 50% higher risk of death or major heart problems like heart attacks or stroke compared to those who sat for less than four hours a day. This difference in risk was higher in lower- and middle-income countries but can be somewhat countered by increasing physical activity. The study was conducted in 21 countries for over 11 years and saw those with higher sitting time were associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality and major cardiovascular disease (CVD).
The study documented over 61925 (58.6%) women at risk, overall 6,233 deaths and 5,696 major cardiovascular events (2,349 myocardial infarctions, 2,966 strokes, 671 heart failures, and 1,792 cardiovascular deaths)—all because of inactive lifestyle.
“Sitting for long periods results in several health concerns. It increases the risk of chronic health problems including heart diseases, diabetes and cancer. Too much sitting sometimes may also affect your mental health and give you anxiety. The heart and cardiovascular system of the body work more effectively when we are active or moving around. Bowel functions work more effectively when you are upright. Therefore, it is recommended to be physically active. It improves energy levels and endurance and maintains strength in the bones,” says Siddhant Bhargava, fitness and nutritional scientist and co-founder of Food Darzee, a health and nutrition company that prepares customised meals based on individual dietary requirements coupled with fitness goals.
While the focus should be on awareness about good nutrition, healthy eating and lifestyle correction, obesity too has slipped into our lives led by sedentary lifestyles and inappropriate food choices. There is a growing consciousness of shared global cultures and returning to our roots in the pursuit of better choices of what we eat. A recent report by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Hyderabad reports that 31% urban Indians and 16% rural Indians are overweight, with 53% urban Indians having abdominal obesity.
Those working from home or sitting in offices for long hours or spending large amounts of time working on laptops are the ones most impacted. Bhargava says to avoid sitting for long hours, try to incorporate more activity into your day. Walk or cycle to work or the nearest metro station, if possible, prefer standing on public transport, use the stairs instead of the lift or escalator. Be active at work.
“Maybe you can walk over and talk to your colleagues instead of sending a text message. Take your lunch break away from your desk and enjoy a short walk up to the canteen. Try indoor activities such as yoga, pilates, squash, etc. And rather than sitting down to read, listen to recorded books while you are walking, or cleaning your house,” he says.
As per Delhi-based Anjali Hooda, CMD of LiveNutriFit, a preventive and integrative healthcare organisation, sitting is the new smoking. “It has been seen that being seated for prolonged periods leads to non-communicable diseases which are on the rise. These are all reversible lifestyle disorders caused by inactivity leading to obesity throughout the world along with a rise in cases of diabetes. Our inability to accelerate the heart rate healthily is a major cause of heart diseases across the world. It’s important to exercise the heart like the rest of the body and the only way one can do it is to be active and not live a sedentary lifestyle.”
The disadvantages outweigh the advantages as sitting for too long can wreak havoc on the body, joints, bones and muscles. “It spoils posture, and even more when we are slouching, it cripples metabolism, reduces bone density, reduces the respiratory capacity, stagnates the lymph and lymphatic system, which is our body’s garbage disposal unit, compromises the circulation and transport of oxygen (from the air we breathe) and nutrients (from the food we eat) to trillions of cells in our body and causes lactic acid production and its build-up in our muscles, which leads to discomfort, cramping, pain, and stiffness in the muscles as well as in the joints,” says Luke Coutinho, holistic nutrition and lifestyle – integrative and lifestyle medicine, founder of You Care – All about YOU, an online store that offers wide range of chemical free , natural and verified products coming directly from farmer.
Apart from various aches and pains, since one tends to not move, it develops obesity because of no activity level which can cause some lifestyle disorders like, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypothyroidism, etc. Activity in general with weight training improves bone mineral density to a very large extent, and if not doing this we may lose out on an active lifestyle.
As a fitness coach, Kanika Gupta deals with many office workers and often tells them to be active at their workplace. “Taking a few minutes to walk, one can work on calorie expenditure and stretching in between long sitting hours can help in healing and releasing aches in back muscles, which in turn will help in being more comfortable, more relaxed and productive at work. Also, having a pedometer can help in monitoring one’s steps, which is a great way to keep track of one’s activity during the day at work and at home and keep a track of step count. I advise people to not take calls while sitting, walk while you talk,” says Gupta, an advance fitness coach at Fittr, a fitness and wellness platform.
- Plan your work calls around post-lunch
- Always keep a mat rolled out in your office space so that you can get up after every 40-45 mins and do some stretching or perform an asana or two
- You can also install a bar in your office space and try some pull-ups. Can’t do a pull-up? Just hang
- If the meeting gets extended, stand up, perform a few calf raises, stretch your hands above your head, and do a few spinal twists
- Kneel down on the floor and take a meeting or work on your desktop/laptop this way
- Have a ton of text messages to go over from your phone? Sit in a malasana / Indian squat and do so
- Walk up/down the stairs instead of taking the elevator
- Walk while talking on the phone
- Opt for activity games
- Limit watching TV
- Integrate a treadmill desk or bike desk in office
- Get a walking buddy