Trouble with Chairs: Health Risks of Prolonged Sitting

Trouble with Chairs: Health Risks of Prolonged Sitting

Possible reasons many people choose to obtain a college education may have been to avoid manual labor or working outdoors, two things that are notoriously hard on the body. The result of this choice was probably a well-paying desk job. While some of the highest paying jobs are desk jobs, it turns out that physically, sitting all day may be just as bad than the manual labor they sought to avoid.

According to Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Unhealthy Side Effects of Sitting All Day

Even if you’re one of those people who without fail gets in a full, hour-long workout every day, that burst of exercise isn’t enough to counteract the 9 to 10 hours an average U.S. adult spends sitting down each day. Here’s what’s happening to your body when you spend such significant time in a chair.

Organ damage

Forget about backaches, what you should really be worried about is the impact that sitting had on your internal organs. When sitting for extended periods muscles burn less fat and your blood begins to flow slowly, allowing fatty acids to easily clog your heart. Sitting has been linked to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, your pancreas may over produce insulin, which can lead to diabetes. And, studies have linked sitting to a greater risk for developing colon, breast, and endometrial cancers.

Muscle degeneration

When you’re standing your abdominal muscles are tensed and tightened, but when you sit, those muscles go unused, ultimately leading to a weak mid-section. Sitting can also impact the mobility of your hips and the strength of your glutes. Sitting in a chair all day will make your hips tight with a more limited degree of motion because they are rarely extended. Your glutes can weaken with lack of use affecting your stability and power when walking and jumping.

Weight gain

This one is fairly obvious. No one who sits for nine or more hours a day believes sitting down is great for the waistline. Obese people typically sit for two and a half more hours per day than thin people. Between 1980 and 2000 while exercise rates remained the same, obesity doubled as time spent sitting increased by 8%.

Loss of brainpower

When you sit at your desk you may be solving all sorts of problems, organizing tasks, and using plenty of critical thinking skills, but even in the most stimulating of jobs your brain can become foggy from sitting for long periods of time. Moving muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen to the brain, which triggers the release of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. Your brain function will actually slow when you’re sedentary for long periods of time.

Back and neck pain

One of the most common and very physical symptoms of living much of your life in a seated position is the presence of back and neck pain. Cradling a phone to your ear and jutting your neck and head forward while working at a computer leads to strains in your cervical vertebrae which causes neck strain, sore shoulders, and back pain. The very act of sitting puts added pressure on your spine and compresses the disks that make up your back.


Aggravated by using thick cushioned broad chairs in which one tends to plunge down and the back sags, sitting for long hours, leads to strain on back muscles and eventually backache. If nerves of the back or their branches are compressed, there can be abnormal sensations or burning pain in feet and legs. Osteoarthritis, stiffness of knees which normally occurs due to aging after 60 years or so, occurs early in desk workers, due to sitting for long hours continuously.


Edema, caused when water gets trapped in the tissues in your body, is swelling or puffiness of parts of the body. Edema usually happens in the feet, ankles, and legs. Sitting in one place for too long can cause edema of the legs, and eating foods with too much salt can make the problem worse.

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