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What Are The Side Effects Of Sitting Too Long?

In an increasingly sedentary world, Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, explores the negative impact of prolonged sitting.

“As we spend more time sitting at desks, in front of screens, or during extended commutes, our bodies pay the price,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“Extended periods of sitting have been linked to a wide range of health issues, both physical and mental.”

Affinity Health highlights ten common side effects of sitting too long, urging South Africans to prioritise movement and proactive measures for overall well-being.

Increased Risk of Obesity

Prolonged sitting reduces calorie burn, contributing to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity. Engaging your muscles through physical movement is crucial in facilitating the digestion of fats and sugars consumed. However, spending prolonged periods in a seated position can hinder the efficiency of this digestion process, leading to the retention of fats and sugars as stored fat within the body.

It is important to note that even if you incorporate exercise into your routine, prolonged sitting poses potential health risks, including metabolic syndrome. Recent research indicates that combating the dangers of excessive sitting requires approximately 60 to 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day.

Musculoskeletal Issues

Sitting for long periods can lead to muscle imbalances, lower back pain, and postural problems, affecting overall musculoskeletal health. Regular stretching and exercise can help alleviate these issues.

Cardiovascular Complications

Studies have shown that sitting for extended periods increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.

Metabolic Disorders

Insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes are commonly observed in individuals who sit for extended periods.

Reduced Brain Function

Sitting for long hours negatively impacts cognitive performance, including memory, attention span, and creativity.

Poor Circulation

Sitting too long hampers blood flow, potentially leading to swollen legs, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Digestive Issues

The two primary factors that negatively impact your gut health from too much sitting are decreased blood flow and increased pressure on your digestive tract, causing gastrointestinal discomfort.

Studies indicate that excessive sitting may also have adverse effects on our gut microbiome, which encompasses the diverse array of bacteria inhabiting our gastrointestinal tract, resulting in a condition known as dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is an improper equilibrium of gut bacteria and has been associated with various intestinal issues, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Celiac Disease (CD), and inflammatory bowel disease, among others.

Increased Risk of Certain Cancers

Studies have linked excessive sitting with a higher likelihood of developing certain cancers.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reveals that individuals who spend more time sitting have a significantly higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, up to 66% higher than those who are less sedentary.

The research examined 43 studies and found a strong association between sitting and cancer, irrespective of the participant’s level of physical activity. Even individuals who exercised regularly but spent more time sitting, such as watching TV, had elevated cancer rates compared to those who sat less.

Specifically, sedentary behaviour was linked to a 24% higher risk of colon cancer, a 32% higher risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21% increased risk of lung cancer. Watching TV was associated with a 54% higher risk of colon cancer and a 66% higher risk of endometrial cancer. For each additional two hours of daily sitting, the risk of colon cancer increased by 8%, and the risk of endometrial cancer rose by 10%.

Mental Health Challenges

Sedentary behaviour is associated with an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

Weakened Bone Density

Lack of weight-bearing exercise during prolonged sitting can contribute to decreased bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis, a prevalent bone disease, results in increased fragility of the bones. This heightened vulnerability significantly raises the risk of experiencing bone fractures, even from minor incidents such as bumps or falls. In addition, osteoporosis can lead to height loss and a stooped posture, affecting overall physical stature.

How Many Hours of Sitting Is Healthy?

The ideal time to sit in a day is a subject of ongoing research and debate among health experts. While pinpointing an exact number of hours that constitutes “sitting too long” is challenging, several guidelines and recommendations have been proposed to promote a more active lifestyle.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests limiting sedentary behaviour, including sitting, for prolonged periods and encourages individuals to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week.

The American Heart Association also recommends breaking up prolonged sitting every 30 minutes with short bouts of activity.

Some studies have indicated that sitting for more than 8 to 10 hours per day may adversely affect health, as listed above.

Ultimately, balancing sitting, standing, and engaging in physical activity throughout the day is vital. It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to determine personalised recommendations based on individual circumstances and health goals.

Tips To Reduce Sitting Time

  • Stand on the train or bus.
  • Take the stairs and walk up the escalators.
  • Set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes.
  • Place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing.
  • Stand or walk around while on the phone.
  • Take a walk break every time you take a coffee or tea break.
  • Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or calling.
  • Swap some tv time for more active tasks or hobbies.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health cover provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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