4 Serious Health Issues From Sitting Too Long & How To Avoid Them

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sitting too longWhen you work at any job that requires long hours sitting at a computer – programming, accounting, writing – it is very easy to stay in that one position for eight to nine working hours every day.

Sure, you might get up for  a drink of water, a bathroom break, or for lunch, but I’m sure you can remember days when, before you knew it, you’d been sitting in that chair for two to four hours at a time. Deep down you know that sitting for such long period of time can’t be good, but really, how bad can it be?

I really started the long stretches at the computer starting at a very young age. I played video games as early as grade school, and did so for long hours into the night when I was in high school. Sitting for four or five hours straight during the weekend while playing an RPG was not unheard of. Time flies when you dive into those virtual worlds – it’s surreal sometimes.

I never really stopped to think what sort of damage I was doing to my body as a teenager. And once I graduated college and went to work as an engineer, I didn’t even consider what would happen to my body once I started sitting at a desk for almost eight hours every day – usually a couple of hours at one stretch before doing any walking.

Sure, the increasing waistline and tightening shirts after a year of full-time professional work gave me some clue what might be happening, but I figured once I started hitting the gym every day for an hour after work I could quickly handle that little problem.

Little did I know until many years later that not only was I making it biologically more difficult to lose weight later, but by allowing myself those long stretches at the desk, I was shortening my life by nearly seven years.

Killing Yourself by Sitting

You’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself, “Oh great, another article telling me how unhealthy it is to be sitting here reading this article.”

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Look, I’m not about to start preaching turning off the computer and going for a long walk this very moment. I love computers. I don’t think I’ll ever quit sitting in front of a computer – but when you really start looking at the facts, it isn’t so much the fact that we’re all sitting in front of a computer, it’s the fact that we’re doing it for such long stretches of time without any break.

It’s important to understand just how seriously this behavior can affect you, because the threat is very real and it’s significant. There are four categories of health that studies show sitting too long can impact – cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Overall – You’ll Die a Lot Earlier

Countless studies show time and time again that being physically inactive leads to a whole list of health problems that will kill you. Taking everything into account, the World Health Organization reports that being physically inactive comes in fourth as a leading risk factor for death. That’s Death with a capital D.

Just how much of a difference can it make? Well, a study published in the March 26th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine found that after taking a sample of 200,000 people into account, there was a clear “association” between the act of sitting and “all-cause mortality”. Bottom line – sitting over eleven hours a day results in a 40 percent higher chance of dying from any cause at all. That’s crazy.

sitting too long

The WHO report mentioned above solidifies this finding. Inactivity was found to be the main cause of about a quarter of breast and colon cancers, 27 percent of diabetes cases, and 30 percent of heart disease cases.

The study in the Archives of Internal Medicine came from researchers at the University of Sydney, who reported that going to the gym or taking a walk is important, but prolonged sitting may actually be counteracting the health effects of that workout entirely.

Sit Too Long Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer

It seems like everything causes Cancer these days. Cellphones. Microwaves. Cat scans and X-Rays. But sitting?

Yup. Sitting increases your risk of getting cancer in a very big way.  The American Institute for Cancer Research held its annual conference early in 2012 and highlighted at that conference were specific research findings showing that 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer in the U.S. could be linked to inactivity.

sitting too long can kill you

It seems like such a cop-out doesn’t it? Like, researchers can’t find a specific correlation so they point at the fact that most of the people that got cancer sat around a whole lot. Well, good guess Sherlock, right? Well, not quite. Researchers, such as Dr. Christine Friedenreich, PhD, the leading epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care who presented at the AICR conference, reported research results that physical activity may actually reduce inflammation linked to increased cancer risk.

The good news is that experts give you a very clear path to wipe out the risk starting right now. Take a break. The AICR responded directly to the research by urging readers to take a break from sitting every single hour – taking a couple of minutes to walk around, stretch, get a drink – whatever – can literally save your life.

There is a solid, proven benefit to taking those breaks. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) published its research findings in the European Heart Journal showing that for 4,757 participants in the study, short periods of light activity – even just a minute at a time – could reduce waistline, increase levels of good cholesterol, and even increase insulin resistance.  This is really serious stuff.

That Chair May Give You Diabetes and Heart Disease

Okay, so you know if you don’t give yourself at least a minute break every hour or so, you could be in for some trouble down the road with the C word, but is cancer the only concern (as though that’s not bad enough on its own)?

Well, unfortunately, Diabetes is the other risk factor when it comes to sitting around for hours at a time.

One study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, took into account published scientific studies dating from 1970 all the way to 2011 and found that collectively, the data from those studies reveal a clear correlation between more than two hours of TV viewing time and risk factors for type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease. The risk of heart disease increased by 15 percent. For diabetes, the risk increased by 20 percent for people that watched TV more than two hours a day. 20 percent!

sitting too long can kill you

Yet another published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in August of 2011 revealed that when people lower their activity from over 10,000 steps a day to less than 5,000 steps a day, physical changes in the body directly increase that person’s risk of type 2 diabetes.

Obviously, the opposite must hold true. If you get up from from that desk every 40 minutes and take a good 10 minute walk, and then take a nice 60 minute walk after work, the odds are pretty good that you could achieve a daily goal over 10,000 and significantly reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.

There are many other studies, like the one out of the University of Mass at Amherst that showed that “1 day of sitting elicits large reductions in insulin action”, and another study from the University of South Carolina that found a direct correlation between time spent sitting and riding in a car, and cardiovascular disease death.

Sitting Too Long and Obesity

It should come as no surprise to anyone that if you sit too long during the day, you’ll get fat. So I’m not going to bore you with research that proves that, it’s pretty obvious. However, there was one particular study related to obesity and sitting too long that really threw me for a loop.

Clearly, the inactivity of sitting burns fewer calories and most people likely are not cutting down on calories just because they’re sitting so long (in fact, they’re probably snacking more), so that positive calorie balance will go directly to your bottom – or for some people, their spare tires.

But did you know that the mechanical pressure on your backside itself literally forces the cells in your fanny to transform into larger fat cells? Crazy right? It’s true.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University found that the preadipocyte cells, which are the cells in your body that turn into fat cells, will actually transform into fat cells faster when they are put under long periods of “mechanical stretching loads”.

sitting too long

This means – my dieting friends – that you can try and cut calories, but if you plan to continue sitting behind that desk for three or four hour stretches at a time without a single break, the odds are pretty good that you’re going to have some major junk in the trunk.

Unfortunately, the list doesn’t stop there. During my escapades through literary journals and University research websites, I discovered studies showing links between sitting too long and everything from increased risk of kidney disease, to a high risk for blood clots in the legs.  In fact, the blood clot issue related to excessive computer use is becoming known in medical circles as “e-thrombosis”.

So, now that you know sitting on that chair for several hours at a stretch is nearly as bad for your health as smoking, what are you going to do? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to install an Android timer on my tablet, set it to go off at work every 40 minutes, and take a 5 minute walk. It may not sound like much, but those breaks could literally save your life.

Do you have any ideas how to take some pressure off your backside during the day? What do you plan to do – if anything – to make a change? Share your ideas with everyone in the comments section below.

Image Credits: Fat Businessman via Shutterstock, Fat and Lazy via Shutterstock, Sitting Too Long via Shutterstock, Fat Driver via Shutterstock

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Comments (131)
  • Alma

    For all those people who work long hours sitting must or your day and do not have the luxury of taking breaks or leaving the work environment to enjoy a 5 -10 min walk on a regular basis, there is a new product call Work-N-Stretch, it’s a resistance band assembly (three levels of strengths) attachable to your desk or lunch table that allows you to stretch, tone and strengthen your muscles from hips to toes. Best of all, it’s discreet and will interfere with your work.

    • John

      I can use this……my legs get numb from sitting all day. If there was a way I could exercise my legs and work at my desk at the same time, that would be awesome.

  • Gramma Kaye

    Contrary to what many people think, standing/walking all day can be as bad as sitting all day. Alan Hedge, who directs the Human Factors and Ergonomics research and teaching programs at Cornell University, states “Standing to work has long been known to be problematic. It is more tiring, it dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis (ninefold) because of the additional load on the circulatory system, and it also increases the risks of varicose veins, so standing all day is unhealthy.” The best thing is intermittent activity at regular intervals throughout the day. This would include stretches and exercise done right in your chair if you cannot leave your desk while at work.

  • John Sorensen

    Fine article, but it does nothing for jobs where it is mandatory to be at a desk all day (call centers) and many jobs you get one lunch break and that is it.

  • de java

    All the ‘productivity improvements” will go to med ins types… it’s good for the ‘conomy, like dying is.

  • George Klein

    It is an undeniable fact that inactivity is unhealthy, but to put it almost at the same level with smoking is gross exaggeration (” sitting on that chair for several hours at a stretch is nearly as bad for your health as smoking”). Another quote: “The American Institute for Cancer Research held its annual conference early in 2012 and highlighted at that conference were specific research findings showing that 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer in the U.S. could be linked to inactivity.”
    Would the Institute say that cancer COULD BE linked to smoking. No way. They would say that cancer IS DEFINITELY linked to smoking.
    There is a huge difference between “could be” and “is”.
    So, let’s be realistic. Inactivity is unhealthy, it should be avoided (I do), but it does not compare with the unhealthiness of smoking.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.