Tom and I don’t have to make an effort for 2 of the – probably most – deadly factors for an ageing person: sitting too long and loneliness. I wrote about turning loneliness actively around in How to make friends when you are older? And this article is about the dangers of sitting too long and how to prevent it.
Ever since I have had my Oura ring I am aware of how much I spend my time sitting. Even though I consider myself an active person. Originally I bought the ring to give me insights into my sleep, but the ring collects a lot more data. Not just my active time, but also the inactive time.
Before wearing my ring I would have guessed my sitting time was about 8 hours a day. All the statistics say that is a healthy maximum. It turned out my average was an awful 12 to 13 hours!
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Table of contents
What are the dangers of sitting too long?
Laziness is ingrained in us by our primal brain. In contradiction to that, our bodies are created to move. We have to make a conscious decision to move more. This is made difficult because comfort is a key aspect of our furniture and lifestyle.
Why does sitting too long matter?
Our primal brain directs us to be lazy. As Neanderthalers, we would occasionally put in a lot of effort into catching an animal so our clan could eat. The times in between hunting were spent hanging around to save energy.
As a contradiction, our body is made to move. Skeleton, muscles, pivot points in our limbs, everything works together to move flexibly and a lot.
Consciously moving more requires an effort. Our chairs and couches are made to be comfortable. Very comfortable. And in effect, they are killing machines! If we don’t use our musculoskeletal system it gets rusty and will fail at some point.
And there is the mental aspect. A lot of aging people have the conception of “I have done enough in my life and now I can do as I please. Eat and drink what I want and do nothing at all if I feel like it”.
Related: To Walk or to Cycle, Which is Better? Either Way, they’re Both Sustainable
What happens when we sit?
- Fat and sugars are absorbed less from the blood, making us vulnerable for overweight;
- Hanging on the couch in a bad position is extremely harmful because you cannot breathe deeply enough with a bent body. Reduced oxygen supply has a negative effect on our brain functions;
- Passively sitting has a negative effect on lower back pain;
- Sitting puts pressure on our limbs, binding off nerves, veins, and arteries. As a result, the blood cannot circulate sufficiently and we can even get swollen limbs;
- Too much sitting robs us of our energy, making us lethargic, and even more easily stressed and depressed.
These are the short-term risks. The long-term consequences are even worse. We are at risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease;
- Liver and kidney problems;
- Chronic back and neck pain.
For some people there is good news: if you have a rapid metabolism, you can hardly sit down and will move a lot on autopilot. The bad news is, that exercising once or twice a week doesn’t compensate for too much sitting.
Those who live in an agricultural community sit on average only three hours a day, office workers up to fifteen hours. If you exercise once or twice a week, don’t skip those exercises – just add more movement to your day. Even strolling at ease helps!
Related: Working from Home is more and more Favored as Essential
Tips to make it easier on you
- Get up every half hour and move. How long? That’s something you have to experience yourself. The ‘official’ organizations say 1 minute is enough. For me, it isn’t. It has taken me about 8 weeks to know what works for me. I have tried several intervals. 30 minutes sitting / 5 minutes walking, 20 minutes sitting / 5 minutes walking, etcetera. For the time being, I do 25 minutes sitting / 10 minutes walking.
The creed on the internet is ‘there is an app for that’. And it’s true because a very handy app I use for this schedule is StandUp;
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator;
- Do exercises on the couch or chair, in front of the TV. And again ‘there is an app for that’, DeskWorkout. I know it’s aimed at office workers, but most exercises are perfect for our goal;
- Make a phone call standing or walking;
- Walk with your friends instead of drinking coffee being seated;
- Put a pedometer on your phone. I am a fan of apps (does it show? LOL) and have Pedometer++ which automatically counts all my steps, provided I have my phone in a pocket or my watch around my wrist;
- Put your laptop or tablet high enough for you to stand behind it. Tom has a half-height cabinet that comes to his elbows and I have a shelf that protrudes out of my bookshelf;
- Have an ‘active’ chair with an unstable seat, so you’re not stuck tight. Or a chair on which you kneel. That happens to be very relieving for your back as well;
- Don’t cross your legs;
- Dance. Or move slowly on music;
- Visit a museum. Without hardly noticing it you’ll make a lot of steps;
- Work at ease in the garden. You do not have to make an extra effort. Being outside while quietly weeding has more than one benefit. It is good for your vitamin D, your mood and, the movement;
- You might not think of it, but even chewing more than you are used to counts as moving extra.
Some final words
Research shows we as human beings are heading in the wrong direction. The direction of obesity and other diseases. And we don’t even need research for that conclusion – you can look around and see in your own environment that most people are overweight.
They say sitting is the new smoking. Well, it’s time to quit, don’t you agree? Tell us in the comment box below what your thoughts are.
14 thoughts on “What are the Dangers of Sitting too Long and How to Prevent it?”
Your article spoke directly to me. I am 68. I train with weights and do cardio, but, I sit a lot. I’ve developed low back pain that never goes away. Your article is a wake-up call to me to sit less. I can find ways of doing my reading and writing without sitting the whole time.
Hi Glen, once we are attentive to it, we notice how much we sit. I wrote this article as much for you and others as for myself.
Reading, I can do walking, but writing is a bigger challenge when I am not sitting 🙂 How do you do that?
oh dear – I cannot stress enough on how important this article is. Following years of not taking care of myself and sitting for long hours working, I developed chronic back pain! I wish I had known all this many years ago but I guess I felt I was too strong for any back issues – how silly my thoughts were!
I have taken a note of the many useful tips you have provided on here especially not crossing my legs. Thanks for this.
You and me both, Angie. And once we have developed this back pain over years, it is unfortunately also costing years to reverse it. But with proper exercise and watching what we doe, we succeed. 🙂
I am glad this is of help to you!
You made a very good point, sitting for long hours is so dangerous for our health. I love the tips you gave, even something so simple as taking the stairs can really help.
Great article Hannie. Thank you
I must admit I am guilty of sitting way too long at one time, I just get so involved in what I am doing online the time just flies by. I am motivated to walk twice per day by my dog, so at least I am getting some much needed exercise.
I really need to start putting your tips into my regular daily routine, so maybe I will get me one of those kitchen timers and set it for 30 minutes to remind me to get off my butt and move around
I can really recommend the app StandUp if you have a smartphone, Jeff! I have tried e.ggtimer.com, the timer on my watch, a kitchen timer and an interval app. They all, except the interval app, had the disadvantage you have to manually start them again at the endof the period. Quite boring.
Even though I am nowhere near the retirement age bracket, this post seemed to make sense to me – since I spend a lot of time sat in front of a computer. Even taking a basic walk is well worth making the time to do, without any other innovations necessary – I find that between 15 and 30 minutes is usually long enough to get my blood circulation ramped up sufficiently.
You’re right, Simon, this advice is for everyone. But since I am aging myself, my tone of voice is directed to my peers of the same age group. But I am glad it appeals to you too 🙂
A very interesting read. We do sit in one position for way too long. Office jobs and then we like to watch TV to relax. We have definitely gained weight, especially during lock down and really need to find the motivation to get up and go out for a walk. Your article was very informative and the health points you raised have hit home (I hope!). I will endeavour to move more, for sure.
Exactly, Susan. When we think about it, it is so obvious. Yet, it is hard to change any behavior, isn’t it. But determination gets us a long way. 🙂
This is an amazing post about the dangers of sitting too long. I am so glad you have reminded us all about the dangers of it as most of us are beginning to get too cozy on them sofas for far too long and find it absolutely a challenge to get up and move. You are absolutely right we need to go back to the basics and keep exercise a must as part of daily life if we want to live longer and healthier.
Many thanks for the reminder.
I started working from home when the pandemic hit and it’s been hard! I’m not used to sitting so much, I used to be on the go a lot, now I’m stuck in front of a pc doing zoom meeting after zoom meeting. Luckily I started working out in the morning but I still feel lethargic and moody all day long.
That’s such a pity, Alexa. I know it’s hard to keep being motivated to move a lot when you’re in a lockdown. But please, try to walk more during the day. Even around your desk will suffice.
Given the fact that you work, you are still young (!), so all the more reason to work on your healthy future. 🙂
Thanks for your comment, and take care.