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Desk Jockey Dangers: Health Risks Linked With Sitting Too Long

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on April 22, 2022.

Prolonged Sitting Shortens Your Lifespan

We are not designed to sit all day. Research shows that prolonged sitting has detrimental effects on our health, including shortening our lifespan. People who sat for more than four hours a day lived approximately two years less than people who sat for less than three hours a day in one study.

Try everything you can to reduce your sitting time. Get up and walk around every twenty to thirty minutes. Try a standing desk for your work station. Sit on an exercise ball while you are watching TV. Schedule a walk for your meeting instead of booking that stuffy boardroom. Fresh air is great to help you think straight!

Sitting Increases the Risk of Heart Disease

Our circulatory system is made up of our heart and a whole lot of blood vessels. Muscles in our arms and legs help blood vessels to return blood back to the heart and lungs for oxygenation and recirculation.

Sitting causes these muscles to become idle, which slows down our blood circulation and can cause fluid build-up in our lower legs. This can damage the inside of our blood vessels, attracting cholesterol, calcium and other substances, which build up on the walls of the blood vessels, narrowing them and increasing our risk of blood clots. Any circumstance that increases the risk of blood clots, such as prolonged sitting in a car or at a desk, increases the likelihood of a heart attack, stroke, or a pulmonary embolism.

Scheduled, regular, short breaks every hour can help reduce this risk.

Sitting Not Only Hurts Your Heart, But Your Brain Too!

Prolonged sitting was associated with an unhealthy thinning of the medial temporal lobe, a region of the brain that is crucial for memory formation, in one preliminary study. Changes in this area have been associated with mental decline and dementia later in life.

This thinning appeared to be independent of physical activity. Even those study participants who had relatively high levels of physical activity had evidence of brain tissue changes.

It could be that there are two distinct groups of "sitters". Those who are mentally active and partaking in stimulating tasks such as crosswords, puzzles, or computer games; and those who are mentally inactive, engaging in passive tasks such as watching TV or movies. More research is needed to determine if this is the case.

Uninterrupted Sitting Can Lead to Type 2 Diabetes

Food is converted by our bodies into glucose which becomes fuel for our cells. Insulin is a hormone that gets released in response to food and helps our cells uptake glucose. Unfortunately, when we sit for long periods of time, our cells don't respond to insulin as well as they should and this glucose becomes trapped in the blood and is not able to be used by our cells for energy.

A continued poor response to insulin is a sign of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and diabetes has been linked to inactivity. The good news is that even short, two minute walk breaks every 20 minutes can counteract this risk.

Continual Slouching Can Damage Your Spine

Glance around and take note of how your fellow office workers sit. Chances are many of them will be in various positions of slouch. They may have their head in their hand, one foot on the desk or be stooped over their tiny keyboard. All these positions can strain vertebrae in your neck and back.

If you have to sit at a desk then do it correctly. Set up your workstation so your arms are at right angles to your body when your fingers type on the keyboard. Adjust your monitor so it sits level with your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed, feet flat on the floor and don't lean forward. Better still, invest in a standing workstation and get off your butt!

Few Desk Jockeys Can Boast a Six-Pack

Our abdominal muscles are constantly working when we stand or sit up straight. Not so when we adopt the lounge position at our workstation. Chair-slumping is the ultimate recipe for mushy stomach muscles.

Our abs help our back muscles support our spine. Once we lose our inner core strength that comes from having functioning abdominal muscles, our posture starts to suffer.

Sit up straight, have a break every 20 minutes, and spend some of your day sitting on an exercise ball instead of an office chair. When you're off work, or during lunch, crunch out a few sit-ups to help build up that six-pack.

When Couch Potatoes Become Emotionally Fried

We are more in touch with our friends than ever before. At the flutter of a finger we can post a greeting, update a photo, or boast about a delectable dinner without even leaving our seat.

But when was the last time you just sat around with your friends just talking and laughing without your phone at the ready. We are at risk of losing important social skills if we ignore people we are with, to keep in touch with people that aren't even there. Don't let your fingers be the outlet for your emotions. Put away that phone and enjoy the company of the people you can see and touch.

Lack of Sunlight Can Lead to Rickety Bones

Most offices lack natural light. But our bodies need a certain amount of sunlight to keep good levels of vitamin D in our bodies.

Vitamin D helps our bones uptake calcium and other minerals which keeps them strong and less likely to break. Continued lack of sunlight can weaken our bones and increase our risk of having a fracture.

Bones also like weight-bearing exercise. Activities such as walking and running help our bones to stay thicker, denser and last longer.

Make sure your body gets enough sun each day, but remember to use sun protection if you are at risk of getting a sun burn. Have your lunch outside when you can or go for a mid-day walk. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement if you can't get outdoors, especially during the winter months.

A Higher Incidence of Urinary Tract Symptoms

Men who sit for prolonged periods of time are more likely to experience lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), according to one study that followed almost 70,000 men for an average of 2.6 years.

Lower urinary tract symptoms include problems with:

  • Hesitancy (waiting longer for the urine stream to begin)
  • Weak and poorly directed urine flow
  • Straining to urinate
  • Dribbling after urination has finished
  • Retaining urine
  • Urinary overflow
  • Frequent nighttime urination.

Cancer and Sitting Linked

Increased time watching TV and prolonged sitting are associated with a higher risk of breast, lung, prostate, colon, and endometrial cancers. Scientists aren't sure why. It may be due to excess insulin production or decreased natural antioxidant production. Whatever the reason, we should take note.

Research suggests that taking a break every 20 or 30 minutes to stretch those legs and improve blood flow helps to reduce the negative effects of sitting. Set your smartphone to remind you when 20 minutes go by. Stand up, stretch, and walk around your desk when it pings. Your life is depending on it!

Sitting + Food + No Exercise. A Recipe to Pack on the Pounds

In the 1960s, 50% of the workforce had an active-type job. Now it's more like 20%. That means the other eighty percent of us are sitting at a desk or not moving much. Our current energy expenditure per day is roughly 100 calories less than what it was 50 years ago.

We are also quite likely to snack while we work at our desks. Put this lack of activity and overeating together and we have a reason why body weights for men and women in the U.S. have skyrocketed in the past five decades.

A Higher Risk Of Severe Covid-19

COVID-19 hit the world hard from 2020 to 2022. Most people ended up spending at least some weeks, if not months, confined to their houses, working from home, and in most cases, unable to partake in their usual exercise regimen or go to the gym.

Unfortunately, a lack of physical activity has been associated with poorer outcomes from COVID-19. and research found that patients with COVID-19 who had been inactive were more likely to:

  • be admitted to hospital
  • need to be cared for in ICU
  • die.

On the other hand, people who consistently met the US physical activity guidelines, which means engaging in at least 150 min/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, had a much lower risk of severe COVID-19.

Why does physical activity make such a difference? Physical activity has been associated with a better immune response, decreased inflammation, a lower incidence and intensity of symptoms, less mortality from various viral infections, better cardiovascular health, increased lung capacity and muscle strength, and improved mental health.

If you have had COVID-19 already, experts suggest easing back into exercise slowly and only once you have fully recovered.

Change Your Desk Jockey Habits Today

Make it your goal to develop healthy desk habits.

  • Get your workstation ergonomically organized so you are comfortable and can sit up straight.
  • Consider a standing or smart desk so you don't have to sit down all day.
  • Get up from your desk every 20 or 30 minutes to stretch and move, just for a minute! Moderate-to-vigorous exercise is even more likely to counteract the effects of sitting.
  • Get outside and walk during your lunch break.

Every moment you don't sit, could be a moment longer you live!

Finished: Desk Jockey Dangers: Health Risks Linked With Sitting Too Long

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