Effects of Prolonged Sitting on your Health

effects-of-prolonged-sittingMany of us are becoming victims to the negative effects of prolonged sitting due to extensive working hours, meeting specific deadlines and increased computer use. The human body was designed to be vigorously active for hunting, gathering and native purposes. However, with the evolution of time and the movement from caves to offices, a large majority of the population have dedicated their time to seated positions. Although sitting can be highly comfortable, prolonged hours can have detrimental effects to the overall wellbeing of the body. Such detriments include; the blunting of caloric expenditure leading to increased visceral fat and obesity, a vulnerability to muscle tightness, weakness and injuries, as well as a reduction in physical activity, consequently resulting in lifestyle conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis and more.

This article discusses the bodily mechanisms affected by prolonged sitting as well as methods to minimise sitting behaviour in order to reduce the likelihood of preventable disease. A sedentary lifestyle is defined as a type of lifestyle where an individual does not receive regular amounts of physical activity and is accustomed to an excessive amount of daily sitting.

The human body adjusts effectively to how it is used for economic purposes. Prolonged sitting forces the adaptation of muscles, bone structure, blood flow, metabolism and ultimately all body mechanisms into minimal function. This is due to the fact that sitting requires very minimal energy expenditure and the body begins to decline in function compared to a physically active individual. The Obesity: Sedentary Behaviours and Health report prepared by the Boden Institute of Obesity highlights current sedentary trends and discusses the negative health effects of prolonged sitting.

Health Effects of Prolonged Sitting on Your Body

SPINE – A common undesirable posture of sitting is an arched back with slumped shoulders, resulting in unnecessary stress placed on the spine. This eventually leads to bone deterioration, an inflexible spine, muscle weakness and a higher vulnerability to injury.  Communication of the brain to the body is interrupted if the spine is not in its ideal alignment. The intervertebral discs remain healthy through the movement of the spine allowing it to absorb nutrients and act as a ‘shock-absorber’. Prolonged sitting compresses the vertebrae discs unevenly, reducing the circulation of nutrients, causing the discs to harden and become brittle.

LUNGS – An arched back can lead to compression of the lungs restricting the overall oxygen capacity of the lungs. This compromises overall performance as their is a reduction in the lungs ability to effectively supply oxygenated blood to working muscles.

SOFT TISSUES – When placed in a seated position, the nerves, veins and arteries are compressed due to the stretching and contraction of the muscles as well as the gravitational forces of sitting. As a result, reduced nerve stimulation causes numbness and restriction of blood circulation causes swelling and blood pooling. Varicose veins can arise in the legs due to this complication.

BRAIN ACTIVITY – The brains ability to think and function is highly dependent on blood circulation and access to oxygen. The combination of restricted blood circulation and reduced oxygen uptake affects the brains activity. On the other hand, exercise increases blood flow to the muscles and the brain.

PANCREAS – The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, a hormone that moves glucose from the blood into the muscles to be used as energy. Insulin sensitivity is down-regulated due to the muscles requiring minimal energy during prolonged sitting. However, the pancreas continues to make insulin resulting in an imbalance that may lead to type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Postural Imbalances: Structural Verse Functional

postural-assessment-parramattaStructural and postural imbalances are permanent anatomical deformities that may not be amenable to correction by mobility and strengthening exercises. Common clinically significant deformities of the spine include scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis. These conditions involve excessive abnormal curvatures of the upper or lower aspect of the spine that can lead to poor mobility and pain. Ideal posture requires all load bearing joints in neutral alignment to reduce any unnecessary stress placed on the ligaments, tendons and muscles. Postural abnormalities are commonly due to poor habits, muscle guarding and avoidance postures, degeneration of bone, muscular imbalance, joint hypermobility or hypomobility and excess weight.

Scoliosis refers to an unnatural sideways curvature of the spine that appears most often during growth spurts just before puberty. Scoliosis usually develops in the thoracic or thoracolumbar spinal regions and can be categorised into two main groups depending on the underlying pathogenesis: structural scoliosis or postural scoliosis. Structural scoliosis involves fixed deformity of the bone that maintains during flexion (leaning forward). The severity of the scoliosis will determine how it is managed and what type of outcome can be expected. Functional scoliosis can be well managed with early diagnosis and postural correction. Treatment protocols for both types of scoliosis include exercise to maintain range of motion, spinal bracing and/or surgical intervention in extreme cases.

Muscular Restrictions Caused by Prolonged Sitting

HAMSTRINGS – During sitting, the hamstrings are continuously held at a shortened position leading to tight hamstrings and decreased flexibility.

ABDOMINALS – Poor posture in a seated position deactivates the abdominals and no longer supports the lumbar spine. This can lead to lower back instability, intevertebral disc damage, nerve impingement and other postural imbalances like pelvic tilt and greater hip loading.

QUADRICEPS – Weakness of the quadriceps and poor patella tracking can result in Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or “Runner’s Knee”.

HIP FLEXORS – Due to the continual hip flexion during prolonged sitting, the hips become tight and can affect range of motion, balance and stride length during walking.

GLUTES– Compression of the sciatic nerve may cause pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg. Prolonged compression of the glutes can also lead to piriformis syndrome which causes spasms and pain in the glutes.

UPPER BACK – The upper thoracics develop a hunched appearance (kyphosis) with prolonged sitting, causing forward head carriage, tight upper trapezius and pectorals.

Strategies for Postural Correction

  • Ensure your work station is ergonomically friendly
  • Consider requesting a standing desk so you can change postures
  • Move regularly – avoid sitting for longer than 20 minute periods
  • Implement postural resets by sitting up straight with shoulders back
  • Engage in a regular postural strengthening exercises
  • Allocate 5 minutes to stretch prior, during and after work
  • Implement stretches that can be done at your work station

Claim Your Free Postural Assessment Today

Register your interest by completing the form below to claim your free assessment. One of our exercise professionals will contact you within 24 hours to schedule a suitable time for your assessment. Post assessment you will receive a detailed report listing any areas that require attention for postural correction.