In contemporary times, increasing numbers of people have consciously or unconsciously adopted sedentary lifestyles especially because of the nature of their work. Research has shown that up to 50-70% of people now spend 6 hours or more sitting everyday. Having spent several hours in bed, many wake up in the morning, get dressed for work, walk into their air-conditioned cars, never having to trek and eventually end up sitting all day at an office desk. To complete the vicious cycle, at the close of work, they get back into the car and drive back home. This is what a typical day looks like for a business executive, banker or doctor who may sit throughout the day in the consulting room attending to patients. Arguably, the dividends of civilization such as computers, television and the internet are of tremendous benefits in improving the quality of our lives. However, when taken too far, they tend to take a heavy toll on us and cause more harm than good. Recently, a lot of research has been dedicated towards discovering the dangers of prolonged sitting. Some German researchers even likened its negative impact to smoking since it significantly raises the risk of diabetes, heart diseases and stroke. Unfortunately, not even exercise can reverse the havoc that can be potentially wreaked by prolonged sitting. Highlighted below are some medical problems you stand the risk of suffering from when you sit all day at that desk:
Cardiovascular problems like hypertension and heart attack are more frequent among individuals who lead sedentary lives and indulge in prolonged sitting. During a study, people who sat more were found to have more fat deposits around their hearts which can occlude the blood vessels supplying the heart and lead to Coronary Artery Disease. Furthermore, it has been shown that those who sit in an office chair for longer than 6 hours on average per day increase their risk of dying from heart disease by up to 64%. In the same vein, you effectively lose about seven Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) when you sit for 6 hours or more everyday for up to 10 years.
Increased incidence and prevalence of obesity and overweight is observed among individuals who sit for prolonged periods. Excess calories are converted to fats and stored under the skin and around major organs. This is compounded in people who feed on excess junk diets and engage in little or no rigorous activity. A study revealed that one hour of daily walk can reduce your risk of obesity by as much as 24%. When you sit for too long, your muscles contract less resulting in reduced lipoprotein lipase activity. This leads to elevated levels of Low-density Lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.
Type 2 Diabetes
This type of diabetes accounts for up to 90% of all cases of diabetes. It occurs mostly among elderly obese individuals who lead sedentary lives such as prolonged sitting.
Sitting for too long leads to accumulation of excess fat around body tissues, hence they become less responsive to the action of insulin, a hormone that drives glucose into body cells.
A study revealed that when you sit for a full 24-hour period, glucose uptake in response to insulin falls by up to 40% which sets the stage for Type 2 diabetes.
Low Back Pain
People who sit for several hours at an office desk are more likely to suffer from lumbar disc herniation and low back pain because a bad posture is one of the most important causes of low back pain. Similarly, increased incidence of osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) has been observed in women who sit for too long. Some studies carried out among women revealed that a woman loses up to 1 percent of bone mass per year when she sits for more than 6 hours a day. Such women are at an increased risk of pathological fractures and low back pain.
Certain cancers such as colon, endometrial and lung cancers have been found to be commoner in people who sit for prolonged periods. According to a journal published by the National Cancer Institute, prolonged sitting increases the risk of endometrial, colon and lung cancers by 32 percent, 24 percent and 21 percent respectively. More still, deaths from cancers were found to be 40 percent less in physically active individuals compared to those who were inactive.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Sitting for too long obstructs blood flow and venous return from both legs which leads to stasis of blood in both lower limbs. This may manifest as swollen legs, varicose veins (tortuous, dilated veins) or less commonly deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The latter refers to the formation of blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. Unfortunately, this can sometimes become life-threatening if such clots are dislodged and carried to the lungs to obstruct pulmonary circulation (pulmonary embolism). Massive pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency that can lead to death if not promptly managed.
Anxiety and Depression
It has also been shown that lack of activity contributes to mood disorders like anxiety and depression which lead to significant morbidity and mortality.
In conclusion, taking breaks from prolonged sitting by standing once every hour and maintaining at least 30 minutes of exercise per day will go a long way in mitigating the dangers of prolonged sitting.
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