Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you’re physically active) and what to do about it

You’ve probably heard of the harmfulness of a sedentary lifestyle: we spend forty hours or more a week in front of the computer, we travel by car or public transport and sit down more and more.

Health experts have even coined the term “sedentary disease,” claiming that the consequences of sedentary work can be diabetes, heart disease, musculoskeletal disease, and even depression.

Here many will object: “But wait, I am a runner! I don’t need to worry much about the consequences of sedentary work, because I am active. But alas, a growing body of research shows that people who sit for many hours a day are still detrimental to their health, even if they exercise regularly.

On the GIFs, we show simple exercises that can be performed directly at the workplace.

What the research says

Until recently, it was believed that by exercising 60 minutes or more a day you are physically active, and that’s it.

Unfortunately, in addition to regular exercise, active people often sit as much as lovers of the “couch” lifestyle.

According to more recent research, short physical activities (like an hour-long jog or a workout in the gym) do not make up for long hours spent sitting during the day.

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

What is a harmful sedentary lifestyle

Slowing of metabolism. Sitting for long periods of time slows down your metabolism, which affects your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat.

Muscle tissue contains the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which is directly correlated with physical activity: thanks to the activity of this enzyme, fats are burned and give energy to the body, i.e. say that they are not stored as repositories. If you sit for 5-6 hours or more a day, LPL activity is significantly reduced.

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

Sadness and depression. The links between sitting and mental health are not yet fully understood, but a survey of 30,000 women found that those who sit nine or more hours a day are more likely to become depressed than those who sit less. six hours a day.

One version is that prolonged sitting reduces blood flow, which reduces the number of neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness, such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, entering the brain.

Stiff legs. When you sit in a chair, your body is usually bent at 90 degrees at the hips and knees. This position shortens the hip flexors and hamstrings, which can lead to future hip problems. It’s the same with the calf muscles: when you sit, they can become less flexible due to the lack of movement in your ankle, increasing the risk of Achilles tendon injury.

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

Back pain and poor posture. Sitting for long periods can cause back problems. Watch how often you slouch or sit in a position called “techno-neck” – when your shoulders are rounded, your head is down, while you stare at your smartphone screen or the keyboard. This head position causes weakness and tension in the cervical spine (neck), scapula (shoulders), and thoracic spine (middle and lower back).

Poor posture can also lead to poor spinal health, such as compressed discs.

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

Risk of premature death. In the 21st century, the concept of sedentary death syndrome (early sedentary death syndrome SeDS) appeared in scientific medicine – it is not a separate specific disease, but a number of risk factors which lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, muscle breakdown, physical inactivity and the onset of type 2 diabetes.

A 2010 study of more than 180,000 participants showed that people who spent more than 6 hours a day sitting with low levels of physical activity increased their risk of premature death by 71%.

The risk of cardiovascular disease. One of the conditions most often associated with insufficient physical activity is heart disease. According to studies, lack of activity during the day increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 147%.

The Sedentary Lifestyle and Subclinical Heart Injury study found that sitting all day can cause troponin buildup. This is a protein that heart muscle cells release when damaged. People who sit more than 10 hours a day have higher troponin levels. It’s not enough to cause a heart attack, but high enough that researchers call it “subclinical heart damage.”

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

The research data is impressive and frightening at the same time. But the solution to the problem is quite simple: all it takes is a little discipline to create new healthy habits.

According to researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine, it only takes two minutes of activity per hour to offset the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

You can spend this time stretching, walking, or warming up a bit. To make it easier for you to remember that much-needed two-minute break, set a reminder on your smartphone until the habit grows on its own.

The biomechanic Cathy Bowman, author of the book “Move your DNA” is in solidarity with them:
“By adding more movement to your non-exercise time, you engage inactive muscles and offset the effect of sitting.”

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

How to minimize the harms of sedentary work

Spend time in a natural seated position. This is the squatting position. Research has shown that in societies where people eat, work and socialize while squatting, they are less likely to experience many of the health problems associated with inactivity.

At first, try to spend five minutes a day (divided into shorter periods) in a natural sitting position.

It may sound silly, but it will go a long way to opening up your hips, increasing the range of motion in your ankles, and stretching the muscle fibers that aren’t being used when you’re sitting in a chair. If you can do more than five minutes, go for it! The more time you spend comfortably squatting, the better in the long run.

Keep the desktop active. If prolonged sitting while working is unavoidable, give your body (and mind) occasional breaks. Every 30 to 40 minutes, get up for a few minutes and walk around the room or hallway. If you can squat and then hold onto the bar for a minute (some offices have horizontal bars and other sports equipment), do it at least several times a day.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a walk at lunchtime, and take coffee breaks outdoors.

By the way, according to a Harvard Business study, physical activity during the day has a positive effect on productivity, increases concentration and helps reduce stress.

Why sedentary work is harmful (even if you're physically active) and what to do about it

Modernize your workplace. If you work from home with a laptop, try alternating between sitting at a desk and sitting on the floor. For example, in a cross-legged pose or kneeling at a low table. You can try the half-lotus position if you have enough flexibility. At first, it may feel more uncomfortable than sitting in a normal position, but these poses are much more beneficial for the hips, knees, and back.

Now “standing tables” are popular, but with them everything is not so simple. Research has shown that standing for a few hours a day causes swelling in the legs and can lead to varicose veins, cognitive decline, and general body discomfort.

Ergonomic chairs are not a panacea either. Sure, they can reduce back or neck pain, but a comfortable chair doesn’t motivate you to move more.

Stay active throughout the day. Simple little things – for example, walking a few stops, walking for half an hour instead of watching your favorite series, not eating at your desk, simple stretching exercises that you can do even while sitting in an office chair – all this is quite effective in the fight against physical inactivity. The main thing is not to forget and to do it comprehensively and regularly in combination with running workouts.