Is sitting all day really that bad?

  15/08/2017 at 09:55 am

In this day and age we are sitting down for longer than ever before. The average person in Britain sits down for 9 hours per day, while in America the average is close to 13 hours. This problem is not just limited to our work life either. After a long hard day at work, most of us will arrive home after sitting down in our car for the journey back, then have a nice sit down in our favourite comfortable chair to recover from our hectic day. Is all of this sitting really that bad for our health? Recent studies show that it may be worse for us than previously thought. 

What are the problems with sitting?

The NHS warn that sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer and early death. They also suggest that sitting for too long can cause your metabolism to slow down, affecting your body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels and break down fat. Sitting for too long can also adversely effect your blood pressure. Some experts suggest that sitting is the new smoking. Meaning that sitting for long periods of time can be just as bad as smoking. More common problems with sitting down for long periods include back and neck pain, wrist pain and a lack of mobility.

So is sitting really the new smoking? This great infographic from Medical Billing and Coding shows just how damaging sitting down all day can be.

Sitting Problems

There have also been studies showing that even if you exercise often, this will not cancel out the negative effects that sitting for long periods result in. Professor Stuart Biddle, professor of physical activity and health at the BHF National Centre suggests that the poor health effects of sitting for too long are separate from whether you often do physical activity or not. He says that they are separate in the same way that smoking is different from diet. There is not enough data about the topic at the moment to show the maximum amount of time you should be sitting for, but most experts suggest that it is wise to try to sit less and move more. 

Ways to decrease your sitting time

For a lot of us, it is hard to think of ways to decrease our sitting time, especially if you have a job where you need to be in front of a computer screen all day. But there are ways in which you can decrease your sitting time and improve your health, even if you have a desk job. 

Try a standing desk 

A standing desk, also known as a stand sit desk, is a good alternative to a normal sitting desk. This will dramatically reduce the amount of sitting time in your day, and if you think you couldn't stand up and work all day, a lot of standing desks easily convert into a normal desk allowing you to alternate between the two easily. These are known as stand sit desks.

Investing in a stand sit desk may be out of the question for you or your office, but don't write off the idea just yet. If you get a little bit creative you can create your own standing desk just by using items you already own such as boxes and coffee tables. Take a look at the examples below of home made standing desks. 

Homemade Standing Desks

Take frequent walking breaks

Try having a walk around the office every hour or so. Just a quick 2 minute walk every hour could drastically reduce the effects of sitting down for too long. This will not only help to get the blood circulating around your body, but will also give your eyes a well needed break from your screen. If you really want to increase your amount of walking time though you could invest in a walking desk (yes they do really exist). Walking desks have a built in treadmill so you can walk while you work! If you get a bit tired you can just turn it off and use the walking desk as a standing desk. 

Walking Desk 

Do some stretches at your desk

If for some reason you are unable to use a standing desk or you can't get up and walk around very often. The next best thing to try is some stretches while sitting at your desk. Doing just a few stretches every now and then will help to get your blood flowing and reduce the effects of sitting down all day. Try to incorporate these stretches from into your daily routine.

Desk Stretches 

Make sure your desk is set up correctly 

Having your desk equipment set up incorrectly may increase the negative effects of sitting all day. Take a look at the check list below to make sure you have the perfect set up.

1. Arms - Make sure your elbows are level with the keyboard when you are sitting at your desk. This will position your wrists at the correct angle

2. Feet & knees - Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. If you cannot achieve this you may need a foot rest.

3. Head and neck - The top of your computer screen should be level with your eyes. The screen should be right in front of you and about an arm length away when you are sitting in an upright position.

4. Over reaching - Make sure that items you use regularly such as your keyboard and phone are placed within easy reach to avoid over stretching.

Follow these 4 simple rules and your desk set up should be perfect, reducing the negative health effects of sitting down all day.

How employers should be helping 

Employers should ensure that employees understand how they should set up their workspace, and that they are provided with appropriate equipment such as an ergonomic chair, keyboard and desk. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations act 1999 states that employers must provide employees with necessary training and equipment for them to do their job safely. Employers who do not train their employees in the ways to safely sit for long periods of time and do not provide adequate equipment to achieve this could be in breach of this act.

The term 'sitting is the new smoking' is being used by more and more people in recent times, but could this actually be true? There is still limited research about this topic so it is hard to tell just how bad sitting for long periods of time can be. There is also no real way of determining the amount of time we should be sitting for per day as there is just not enough research, and it could also differ from person to person. Most experts say however that even if they can't suggest an exact amount of time you should be sitting for, everyone should be trying to sit less and move more.