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Are you Sitting too much? Here’s Why You Never Should!

Increasing research has highlighted the significant risk of excessive sitting for adults, but “grown-ups” are not the only ones at risk. Children spend more than 60 percent of their waking day sedentary, and by some estimates children sit an average of 8.5 hours a day.

Further, activity levels are thought to decline steeply after age 8, especially among girls. Researchers decided to study a small group of girls (aged 7 to 10 years) to determine if sitting is as detrimental to their health as it appears to be to adults.

In adults, sitting for hours leads to constricted arteries in your legs, which impedes blood flow, raises blood pressure, and contributes to the development of heart disease over time.4 Does the same hold true among children?

Just Three Hours of Uninterrupted Sitting Reduces Vascular Function

At the start of the study, all of the girls had healthy arterial function. However, after sitting for three hours, playing on tablets or watching movies, there was a “profound” reduction in vascular function.

Arterial dilation fell by up to 33 percent in the girls, which is alarming since a 1 percent decline in vascular function is known to increase heart disease risk by 13 percent in adults.

There were some encouraging findings. The girls’ artery function had returned to normal a few days later when they returned to the lab. And when the sitting time was interrupted by a gentle 10-minute cycling session, no decline in vascular function was recorded.

“It seems clear from our results that children should not sit for prolonged, uninterrupted periods of time.” Alan Hedge, professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University

“This research suggests that children are not that different from adults in terms of fundamental physiology of the body… It confirms that sitting compresses blood vessels in young people just as much as it does in adults [and] just as much as it does in elderly.”

Why You (and Your Kids) Should Strive to Sit Less Than Three Hours a Day

Studies looking at life in agriculture environments show that people in agrarian villages sit for about three hours a day. Your body is made to move around and be active the majority of the day, and significant negative changes occur when you spend the majority of the day sedentary instead.

Organ Damage

Heart: When you sit, blood flows slower and muscles burn less fat, which makes it easier for fatty acids to clog your heart. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that women who sit for 10 or more hours a day may have a significantly greater risk of developing heart disease than those who sit for five hours or less.

Pancreas: Your body’s ability to respond to insulin responds after just one day of excess sitting, which leads your pancreas to produce increased amounts. This may lead to diabetes.

Research published in Diabetologia found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least.

Sitting for more than eight hours a day has also been associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Colon Cancer: Excess sitting may increase your risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers. The mechanism isn’t known for certain, but it could be due to excess insulin production, which encourages cell growth, or the fact that regular movement boosts antioxidants in your body that may eliminate potentially cancer-causing free radicals.

Findings presented at the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit also found that sitting increases:

  • Lung cancer by 54 percent
  • Uterine cancer by 66 percent
  • Colon cancer by 30 percent

Another reason for this increased cancer risk is thought to be linked to weight gain and associated biochemical changes, such as alterations in hormones, metabolic dysfunction, leptin dysfunction, and inflammation — all of which promote cancer.

Digestion: Sitting down after you’ve eaten causes your abdominal contents to compress, slowing down digestion. Sluggish digestion, in turn, can lead to cramping, bloating, heartburn, and constipation, as well as dysbiosis in your gastrointestinal tract, a condition caused by microbial imbalances in your body.

Brain Damage

  • Your brain function slows when your body is sedentary for too long. Your brain will get less fresh blood and oxygen, which are needed to trigger the release of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals.

Posture Problems

Strained Neck and Shoulders: It’s common to hold your neck and head forward while working at a computer or cradling a phone to your ear. This can lead to strains to your cervical vertebrae along with permanent imbalances, which can lead to neck strain, sore shoulders, and back.

Back Problems: Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the toll on your back health is even worse if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. It’s estimated that 40 percent of people with back pain have spend long hours at their computer each day.

The disks in your back are meant to expand and contract as you move, which allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. When you sit, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time.

Muscle Degeneration

Standing requires you to tense your abdominal muscles, which go unused when you sit, ultimately leading to weak abdominals.

Hip Problems: Your hips also suffer from prolonged sitting, becoming tight and limited in range of motion because they are rarely extended. In the elderly, decreased hip mobility is a leading cause of falls.

Sitting also does nothing for your glutes, which may become weakened, affecting your stability and the power of your stride when walking and jumping.

Leg Disorders

  • Varicose Veins: Sitting leads to poor circulation in your legs, which can cause swelling in your ankles, varicose veins, and blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Weak Bones: Walking, running, and engaging in other weight-bearing activities lead to stronger, denser bones. Lack of activity may cause weak bones and even osteoporosis.

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