I recently experimented on myself. What would one week of sitting all day while working do to my body compared to my normal routine of standing most of the day?
What I discovered both shocked me and proved once and for all that sitting is not only killing us, but it’s destroying our productivity.
This wasn’t an experiment that I set out to perform. It only happened because of a series of unfortunate events that kept me from getting to my office across town for an entire week. Unlike my regular office, my at-home office does not have a standing desk.
NOTE: This post might seem a bit more morbid and discouraging than others. Don’t fret or worry. Yes, it’s meant to scare you a bit, but only into new, more positive behaviors. And, this two post series is not all doom and gloom. There are practical suggestions and little rays of hope at the end. If you want to skip to the good stuff, check out the follow-up post and learn 5 simple ways to avoid sitting yourself to death. You’ll also be able to get a free book, The 5-Minute Workout, which will help you get up and move on those days when it seems like you have no time.
Long term damage of sitting
You may already know that sitting is one of the most dangerous things you can do.
If you sit at a desk for eight-plus hours each day, it is literally killing you. No matter how much you exercise at the gym or how many miles you run or walk each day, the time you spend virtually immobile at the desk outweighs the good that you do.
Here is a short list of the long term damage you might experience from a sitting desk job:
1. Increased chance of heart disease
When you sit, as you might expect, muscles are less active and blood flow slows down. That allows fatty acids to clog more easily in the heart.
Sitting for long periods of time (as you would experience while working) has been linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The more time you spend sitting, the more likely you are to have cardiovascular disease.
2. Flabby abs
If you are sitting right now, focus on your abdominal muscles. Are they working all that hard, if at all? Probably not.
When you sit, your abdominals and your back muscles are at ease. When you are standing, however, they are constantly working. Your abs are actually responsible for holding you upright.
When you sit, and especially when you slouch, you are virtually guaranteeing flabby abs.
3. Diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, and more…oh my!
When you sit, your idle muscles don’t know what to do with the insulin that is naturally produced by your pancreas. It’s as though your cells are saying, “hey, give us some insulin for energy,” and then you are aren’t using it.
The problem is that your pancreas doesn’t really know that you have a big project due and won’t be moving from that chair for the next two hours, so it continues to produce more and more insulin. That, as you might expect, often leads to diabetes and other diseases.
How long must you sit to cause a decline in insulin response? One day. Yes, according to a 2011 study, just one day of lengthy sitting can cause a decline in insulin response. Yikes!
Other studies have linked sitting to an increased risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. There are two possible reasons why. One is that movement, which is more likely while standing, boosts natural antioxidants in the body, which are responsible for killing free radicals, which damage your cells and potentially lead to cancer. The other possible reason is that the abundance of insulin I mentioned above leads to the growth of dangerous cells.
4. Tight hips
When you sit, your hips tighten, which over time becomes the number one cause of elderly people falling.
Tight hips also limit your range of motion, which over time will lead you to start shuffling your feet due to a shortened stride.
5. Varicose veins…and worse
The lack of movement causes poor blood circulation, which leads to all sorts of problems ranging from swollen ankles to varicose veins…or worse.
You could develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which are dangerous blood clots in your legs.
6. Weak bones
Osteoporosis is at an all-time high and scientists believe that the rise in sitting desk jobs to be a leading cause. When you stand, walk, or run, you stimulate your bones to thicken and become denser and stronger. As you age, your bone density, thickness, and strength play a large role in your health.
7. More mush in your tush
Sitting, quite literally, will put more mush in your tush. (Hey, that rhymes!)
When you sit, it widens your buttocks. It’s not only unhealthy (it increases the number of fat cells in your buttocks) but you are literally making your butt bigger.
The list could go on, but you get the idea. Sitting is killing you.
So, what about that experiment I did on myself to test the short-term effects? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for that one.
The short-term effects were astounding. I was amazed at the amount of damage I could do to my body, mind, and my productivity in only one week of sitting instead of standing.
Make sure to read my follow-up post, in which I share practical ways you can get up more, how to counteract the effects of sitting at a desk job, and even how you can easily and cheaply switch to a standing desk.
Have you experienced long-term damage from sitting too much? How do you avoid excess sitting?