Prolonged Sitting: The New Smoking

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What happens to your body when you sit all day?


This may be a question that millions of Americans with an office job frequently think of, especially when they start to feel lower back pain near the end of a working day. If you are one of the sedentary people, it’s time for you to realize the harm prolonged sitting can do to your body.



What it does to you


Weakened muscles


If not actively used and tightened, muscles on your back and legs begin to lose their power or ability to engage properly. Prolonged sitting leaves your muscles loosened, unless you consciously keep your core postural muscles slightly engaged.


Decreased blood flow


According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, sitting for long periods can cause sluggish blood flow, especially in legs, which may lead to blood clots.


Intense lower back pain


I have frequent lower back pain after sitting for several hours. This may be the most common symptom for an office worker. After a few hours of sitting, your sacrum bone (the bone just above your tailbone) tends to shift position, stiffen, and cause discomfort.



Less oxygen produced


Your lungs have less space to expand as you breathe when you are sitting down. They cannot function properly or provide a healthy amount of oxygen to the rest of your body. You may experience lightheadedness, confusion, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath.


Increased diabetes risks


After just one day of prolonged sitting, those inactive muscles in your body have a harder time responding to insulin, the hormone that helps break down glucose for energy. When your body doesn’t break down glucose, your risk for diabetes significantly increases.


Research shows that the death rate of people sitting for 6 hours each day is 4 times higher than that of people sitting for 3 hours per day. That’s why prolonged sitting is called “the new smoking” — it harms your body just like smoking does.



What you can do


There are some easy stretches you can do to eliminate the damage of sitting.


Supported backbend


Stand facing away from a wall with your heels about 1 foot away from the wall. With your arms over your head, elbows bending backward so that your palms can touch the wall, slowly lean back and catch your body weight with your hands.


If the position causes too much discomfort, you can try a light version by standing a little closer to the wall.


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Lunge with rotation


From a standing position, take a big step forward with your right foot into a lunge. Make sure your right knee does not extend past your toes to protect your joint. Place your hands on either side of your right foot, and lift your right arm toward the ceiling and turn your body upward at the same time. Then switch sides and repeat.


Also, if this is difficult for you, you can put your left hand on your right knee instead of beside your foot.


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Star reach


Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip width. Reach your arms high in the sky with palms facing forward. Spread your fingers while rising high and stand on your toes to stretch the whole body.


Prolonged sitting can be harmful; however, you can take care of your body by standing up and doing some stretches every 30 or 60 minutes.


1 Answer

These messages are for mutual support and information sharing only. Always consult your doctor before trying anything you read here.
These are all very helpful for the able bodied office worker, but I was a disabled office worker who began working while walking with a cane. After a few years, that was no longer medically recommended for me. So my office career went on for five more years from a wheelchair.  Any ideas or suggestions for disabled or wheelchair-bound people?  Thank you for thinking about us!
Exercises for wheelchair bound office workers:
Toe Taps
Sit up straight with abs engaged and feet flat on the ground. Tilt your toes up towards the ceiling and then back down to the floor. Repeat several times.

Knee lifts
Sit up straight with abs engaged and your feet flat on the ground. Slowly lift your right leg, bending your knee in a marching motion. Lift your leg, raise it as high as possible, then put your foot back on the ground and repeat with the other leg. Continue to repeat this motion, alternating legs.

Tummy Twist
Sit upright with abs engaged and feet flat on the ground. Hold both arms at a 90-degree angle, with forearms extended forward, and the elbows placed on both sides. Rotate your upper body to the left, and twist your waist to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Twist back to center and repeat the motion to the right.

Hope these exercises can help. Best wishes!