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Stand Up for Your Health: The Risks of Sitting and How to Combat Them

So many of us have to spend long periods of time sitting! It is now common behavior in modern society, especially among people who work in offices or who spend a lot of time on the computer. While it may seem like a harmless activity, prolonged sitting can have detrimental effects on our health. Here I will share with you why sitting at a desk is not the greatest for our health, and what we can do to mitigate the negative effects.

So, what are the known health problems that are associated with prolonged sitting?

  1. Weight gain can be a result of sitting for long periods due to a reduction in the number of calories burned and slowing down metabolism. This can result in a buildup of body fat and an increased risk of obesity.

  2. Poor posture can cause back pain and neck strain. This is because sitting puts more pressure on the spine and can lead to muscle imbalances. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for absences from work, with more than 12 million working days lost due to this.

  3. Cardiovascular disease is linked to sitting for long periods which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

  4. Prolonged sitting has also been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as it can lead to insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels.

  5. Some studies have suggested that sitting for long periods may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as colon, breast, and ovarian cancer.

With a list like that, what is it about sitting that is so darn bad for us??!

Reduced physical activity

Sitting for extended periods reduces the amount of physical activity we engage in throughout the day. This can lead to a number of negative health outcomes, as regular physical activity is important for maintaining a healthy weight, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and promoting overall well-being.

Muscle and joint problems

Sitting for long periods can cause muscle imbalances and joint problems, particularly in the neck, shoulders, back, and hips. This is because sitting puts more pressure on certain parts of the body and can lead to a decrease in muscle strength and flexibility.

Reduced circulation

Sitting for long periods can lead to a reduction in circulation, particularly in the legs. This can lead to swelling, varicose veins, and other circulatory problems.

Mental health issues

Prolonged sitting has been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety. This may be due to a number of factors, including reduced physical activity, social isolation, and the stress of sitting in one place for long periods.

Eye strain

Sitting at a desk for long periods can also cause eye strain, particularly if you are staring at a computer screen for extended periods. This can lead to headaches, dry eyes, and other eye-related problems.

This all sounds pretty horrid… So what can we do to mitigate this? Most of us are not in a position to leave our jobs to work in the fields!

Here are 10 ways to reduce the amount of time you are sitting at a desk during the working day.

  1. Stand up and move around: One of the best things you can do to counteract the negative effects of sitting is to stand up and move around regularly throughout the day. This can include taking short breaks to walk around, stretch, or do some light exercise.

  2. Improve your posture: It's important to maintain good posture while sitting, as this can help prevent back pain and neck strain. Make sure your chair is adjusted properly, and try to sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight.

  3. Use a standing desk: Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular, as they allow you to work while standing up. This can help reduce the negative effects of prolonged sitting and promote better circulation. Some people even set their computer monitor up on a treadmill and walk or run during meetings!

  4. Take regular breaks: If you are the owner of an Apple watch (other brands are available!), you will be aware that it alerts you to move every hour. If you can, try and do this. Perhaps it is a trip to the bathroom, a chance to put the kettle on and do some squats, or jogging on the spot?!

  5. Practice Pilates at your desk - there are so many options for Pilates movements at your desk, or using your chair. Some are very discreet, some are less so but these will balance you out and leave you feeling much better by the time your working day is done.

  6. If you are on a call, walk: Take the call outside or move around your office or home as you talk. If you are having a meeting with a colleague, could you take it outside and walk together?

  7. Increase your water intake: by drinking more water, you will need to refill your cup more frequently, as well as needing to go to the bathroom more often! Win, win when it comes to adding movement into your day

  8. Track your movements and compete with colleagues or friends: get a competition created against yourself or others for the most steps, squats, calf raises in a week… gamifying these activities can have a real positive effect on many of us and may lead to forming healthier work habits.

  9. Keep the snacks at bay! I am not suggesting you don’t fulfill your fueling requirements but if you have to move to get said snack, you won’t be eating without thought. Getting away from your desk to retrieve the snack is so much better for you than that mindless eating, in addition to getting that little bit more movement into your day.

  10. Move when you are sitting: Yes, bounce your leg, point and flex the ankles, walk on the spot, lengthen the legs… these things will get the blood flowing, stop stiffness and encourage more mobilisation of the joints.

Of course, I would also suggest that you incorporate some regular Pilates into your working week to help counteract the sitting, help you to lengthen, strengthen and mobilise your joints and muscles. As well as helping with your physical fitness, you will also be working on your mental fitness which is crucial at helping us deal with the stress, anxiety and overwhelm that can go hand in hand with work.

If you or your company would like to incorporate Pilates into your working week, Raise Pilates offers first class online and face to face group lessons and one to one classes. For more information on how Pilates in your workplace benefits both employee and employer, take a read of this post. Based in Kingston, Surrey, Raise Pilates travels to individuals and groups in Surbiton, Berrylands, New Malden and Norbiton. For more information and to book, visit our website.


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