Sitting Down is Killing You

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You probably knew already that lack of exercise isn’t great for your body, but did you know long periods of sitting is killing you more than the inactivity? Even if you’re a regular gym rat, if your job involves a lot of sitting down you could be in for a lot of trouble down the line.

This issue is one I have some experience with. At the start of 2020 I embarked on my own crusade of trying to undo the effects of being a certified desk potato. Several years back, I came to a cross-roads, I was working a full time job, starting multiple businesses in my “spare time” and training to join the army reserves. I realised I wasn’t able to do all of it and be successful, so I chose to focus on my businesses and pretty much gave up on fitness altogether. Since then my staple day has been working a minimum of 12 hours, hunched over, staring at a screen in the dark. I don’t regret that decision because those businesses have been rewarding, successful and now help to support me. However, a stock check of my physical health revealed just how bad things had gotten. I could barely run because of extreme muscle tightness, my waistline had expanded way beyond what I was comfortable with, I had terrible posture, was frequently tired… blah blah blah, you get the idea, it wasn’t good.

I was shocked to discover just how much sitting, more so than mere inactivity, was affecting me, it went far beyond what I first thought. Take it from me, sit up and pay attention because a dose of prevention is far better than the cure. Unless the cure is doughnuts, Is it doughnuts? No… No, I’m being told the cure isn’t doughnuts. I’m going to instil you with “the fear” first, then we’re going to talk about what you can do to combat it.

5 Ways Sitting Is Killing You

1. It is just straight up killing you. Several studies, like this one from Queens University Belfast, have shown that people who spend a lot of time sitting, whether it be office workers or bus drivers, are experiencing premature deaths. I feel I don’t need to expand much further on this one, you get the picture. Dying is bad, living is good, don’t die.

2. It is slowing down your metabolism and making you fat. Not only are you not burning off calories by being inactive, your metabolism is also working at a slower rate, burning even less. This has other knock-on effects, such as those described by The Mayo Clinic, which says it’s linked with other health concerns including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat and abnormal cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown that this effect is independent of any exercise you do, so if you sit down a lot you could actually be undoing a lot of the health benefits of exercise. This Australian study has also shown that not taking regular breaks from sitting has a positive correlation to waist circumference.

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Pretty harrowing stuff, data courtesy of Healy et. al 2008

3. Sitting weakens the muscles of the posterior chain, and lengthens your glutes i.e. it’s making your butt flat. Your posterior chain is basically all the muscles down your back, from your neck to your ankles. These weakened muscles will create alignment issues for you and you’ll tend to experience more knee pain, hip pain and pain along the back as your weak muscles struggle to hold things together. It also tightens the muscles, which is one of the big problems I’ve experienced. Tight muscles can cause you pain during activity and restrict your range of movement, frequently tight calves are the cause of shin splints in new runners. This is bad news because it means even if you resolve to do more exercise you can find yourself severely limited, at least at first.

4. It’s bad for your posture. Even if you’re the most avid proponent of posture, sitting for long periods makes it more likely your posture will slip. The effects of this are similar to weakened muscles, you’ll experience more back pain with further effects down your posterior chain and it’s even linked to poor sleep.

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Bad posture has all kinds of knock on effects. Source: Pixabay

5. It’s bad for your brain. This UCLA study highlights the dangers sitting can have on your brain. The key outcomes of the study have shown sitting for long periods can affects the memory centres of your brain. Memory recall is not just important for remembering where you left your keys, it also helps with increasing working memory helps with your ability to think, it is linked to increased focus, improved learning and more. So, if you think hammering out that report is more important than getting up and moving around, you may just be wrong.

These are just my top five. More and more studies are being released on the dangers of our sedentary lifestyles showing countless detrimental health effects. I personally don’t believe either that it is particularly conducive to our mental health.

How can our souls be saved!?

Okay, scared yet? The good news is, there’s plenty we can do about it and we can get creative about it. The first key step is to acceptance of the dangers and acknowledge we must make permanent changes. This can be through using any of your favourite cognitive tricks or habit-forming tools, here’s a good overview from James Clear author of Atomic Habits. If we don’t build that foundation, it’s unlikely we’ll stick to any of these changes. However, with the right mindset we can look at how we perform a successful pre-emptive strike on this bad mutha before it sneaks up on you!

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Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. Source: Pixabay

The NHS recommends that every 30 minutes you get up and move. This actually fits in well with Pomodoro Technique, which says taking a break from work every 25 minutes can help with concentration, work quality and memory retention. I use a countdown timer on my computer. IT’s pretty effective and I find it useful for setting myself little challenges too. “Okay in the next 25 minutes I’m going to write 250 words.” Four pomodoro’s, or 2 hours later, I usually have my 1,000 words, epic! It’s a neat little way of breaking up some of those mammoth tasks into bite sized chunks. Plus, I’ve found my biggest epiphanies happen during those 5 minute breaks. Though, through experience, I can tell you it’s just as important to set the 5 minute timer going so you don’t break for too long.

You don’t have to go anywhere when you get up, you can simply stand in front of your desk, although I find it’s a good chance to get away and avoid some of that nasty eye strain too. So, stand for a few minutes, pace your office or apartment. Sip some coffee and look out your window, you’ll get the added benefit that if you stay still, half hidden by the blinds, it looks real creepy to anyone walking by.

Increasing breaks is a great first step, but these studies show it’s just as important we decrease our total sitting time too. So, if your day looks like a whole lot of sitting, you’re going to have a bad time. I get it, you work all day, you can’t think of anything worse than standing on public transport and when you get home you just want to switch off and watch the telly. That’s my vibe too, but the simple fact is this sedentary lifestyle just ain’t natural. If we’re going to tackle this we have to take advantage of every opportunity.

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Try to decrease total sitting time. Source: Pixabay

There’s the typical advice I mentioned already like standing on public transport, however, this is where you can get creative with it. You’re much more likely to keep a change if you enjoy doing it. Got a one-to-one or a small meeting? Why not do it while walking the local park? Same goes for calls. Perhaps it’s ‘hacks’ like parking your car further away so you’re forced to walk a little between your driving seat and your desk chair. If you’re a home worker, like me, take any opportunity to get out of the house. Make some changes to do so, like working outside or getting acquainted with voice memos so you can walk and talk. It may not be your fave method of note taking, it’s not mine, but is it worth your long term health to stubbornly hang on to your old ways? (If you’re super fancy you can hire people on sites like Fiverr to transcribe your ramblings for minimal cost too).

Every so often I like to break up my morning and afternoon sitting sessions with whacking a few balls down the golf range. It may sound like epic slacking off but getting out moving usually makes my afternoon period much more productive, and again gives more space for those awesome Eureka moments, though the other patrons prefer it if you don’t actually shout Eureka, lesson learned on that one… Nonetheless there’s some element of truth to those who testify the old adage of getting business done of the golf course. Your passion may not be golf, maybe hitting a tennis ball or kicking a football against a wall is your thing, maybe you’re a reenactor who prefers to swing a sword. Whatever your method of movement, taking a slightly longer lunch break (adding the time on to the end of day of course, no slacking here!) and breaking up your sitting sessions is definitely a worthy combatant in the fight against “dead-ass syndrome”.

As well as preventing the dreaded effects of sitting down, all the time spent up and about and outdoors will undoubtedly have other positive effects, such as improved mental health and general wellness. The opposite is certainly true; that spending lots of time isolated in a dark room with the screen illuminating your clammy pallid skin is bad. So, don’t become a home-office goblin, just bloody move! Any way you can, any time you can and be sure to keep adding in new ways.

Okay, so above we have ‘don’t sit as long or as much’. Cool, but we’re still sitting down an awful lot, right? After-all the average work day is 9–5 and we’re not going to give up all of our TV time to go romping over the hills and far away, that’s just insane. Fear not citizen! There are other tools we can add to our utility belt for fixing up our lives.

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A bit of yoga can help stretch tight muscles. Source: Pixabay

Activities like yoga and stretching are a fantastic way to not only introduce a bit of movement, but also to stretch out those tight muscles and keep our posture true. In some cases of over-sitting, medical yoga has been used to positive effect. I personally have developed my own chilled out floor based stretch routine for the mornings. It takes a paltry ten minutes and it’s an awesome, gentle way to start the day. Tai Chi is also something a few friends of mine have been trying out lately. These are all nice relaxing movements that stretch out the muscles and can be employed at any time of day, although, it is normally recommended any deep static stretching is done after muscles are warmed up or in the evenings.

Despite the amount of exercise we do not seeming to have a direct effect on our sitting disasters, when combined with the methods outlined above, it can help us to move more and sit less. Let’s face it, if you’re out jogging after work instead of slumped on the couch playing Animal Crossing, you’re not sitting are you? Resistance training can also help us with some of those muscle weaknesses and alignment issues. If you think you have a bad case of it, a personal trainer can easily help you in selecting exercises for those weak glutes and can prescribe some tasty exercises for evening up any imbalances. But trust me, it’s better not to get to that stage, so taking the sweeter pill of some regular exercise and strength work now will do wonders in staving off any stricter routines. A friendly game of tennis or footy at the weekend, instead of Netflix and cereal in your underwear, is going to keep you moving, healthy and happy.

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Find creative ways to stand more & sit less. Source: Pixabay

You don’t need to do a marathon every weekend though. Simply moving any way you can is the real cure here. Just don’t sit. Again, get creative with it, perhaps there’s a local botanical gardens to walk around, maybe it’s simply standing while cooking or baking in the kitchen. If you have any of you own tips on how you keep moving I encourage you to share them. There are infinite possibilities, which also means there are no excuses.

Lastly, despite my own mitigative actions I still sit a lot. It has definitely slowed my metabolism and my waistline suffers to this day. Thus it is not a bad shout to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet. The NHS and most health apps ask you about your lifestyle and adjust your required daily calories accordingly. I’ve found if I must sit down a lot, it’s necessary to reduce my calorie intake significantly to avoid weight gain. I also believe this method should be a last resort. It’s kind of like bailing out water in a ship without trying to plug any of the holes. Nonetheless, diet is still a weapon and if you’re not tracking your intake it’s hard to know the full story. Just like tracking any other goals, tracking diet is important and we should adjust it based on current needs. I use MyFitnessPal, a great app with a massive food database that does all the counting for you.

Well, there you have it folks, sitting here to kill you and drink milk… and it’s all outta milk! The solution though is rather simple, don’t sit so much and move more. “Move more” sounds a bit like some cheesy 80s health department slogan, yet it is simple, sage advice.

Perhaps it’s time we view sitting as a privilege and not our default setting.

So, what’re you waiting for? Clap for this article then get out and move!

Did this article resonate with you? Or perhaps I should stop writing immediately and go to hell! Either way, let me know! Be sure to give this article plenty of claps if you enjoyed it or get in touch with me via the contact form on my website.

This article was written by Cameron Readman. If you’d like to know more or receive notifications for future articles, please head over to the Website and subscribe at the bottom of the page!

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