Dangers of Prolonged Sitting

**Repost from previous website blog**


Did you know that sitting, as simple as it seems, can play a significant impact on your health?


In 2006, James Levine, a British scientist based at the Mayo clinic in Minnesota examined how people move about during an average day.  He came to the conclusion that “all creatures have a biological imperative to move and that movement, perhaps more than anything else, is good for us”.  Levine also concluded that in his view, “sitting down is not just bad for people, but rather, it’s a killer”.[1]


We all already know how smoking is bad for health; a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong concluded that walking about and smoking is better than idly sitting down and doing nothing.  Having said that, I am by no means justifying smoking nor am I saying that we should never sit.[1]  But rather, we should pay attention to how we sit and how long we sit at each stretch.


This year for Spinal Health Week, a national initiative run by the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA), the emphasis is on the detrimental effects of sitting and of an inactive lifestyle.  The goal of Spinal Health Week is to share the importance of spinal health in improving overall health and wellness.[2]


This is, however, no less relevant to Hong Kong as work in Hong Kong often has us sitting for more than half of our day.


Our bodies tend to adapt to what we spend doing most often.  When our bodies adapt to constant sitting, we lose the ability to perform basic functions such as standing, walking and jumping as effectively.[3]  Sitting all day can contribute to muscle stiffness, poor mobility and potentially neck, back and hip pains.


Do you find that when you sit in a bad posture for an extended period of time, it actually feels better staying that way, and rather, getting back into a more proper posture actually feels uncomfortable?  That’s just another example of our bodies adapting to what we do.


Besides affecting how you look, it can also affect your health.  Prolonged sitting without a break can contribute to:


1.  A lowered metabolism thereby slowing the processing of fats which increases the risk of chronic diseases despite meeting recommended physical activity levels.

2.  A deterioration of the natural curves of the spine, causing a reduction in structure and thus uneven weight distribution throughout the body

3.  Increased disc pressure between vertebrae

4.  Increased inflammation that can lead to pain and an earlier degeneration process

5.  Reduced stability and function such as muscle weaknesses due to abnormal structural changes [4,5,6,7]


Ideally we want to try and avoid sitting as much as possible.  But how do we sit right?  There’s two simple things you can start doing today.


Sit less – We can improve our health simply by standing up and moving around more.  Take short regular breaks from sitting time (try every 20 minutes) for standing or stretching, walking around the office, changing/correcting your posture, or even just to have a shake down to loosen up the body.

Sit correctly – There’s a lot that can be mentioned when talking about sitting ergonomics. But for starters, when sitting, make sure your elbows, hips and knees are at open angles (slightly more than 90 degrees), bottoms a bit higher than your knees, have an appropriate amount of lumbar support and ensure feet are flat on the floor.


Have you ever thought about how long you spend sitting in a day?  Check out the video below to find out more!



Dr. Alex Pak



[1] The Sunday Telegraph, London. ‘Is Your Death a Death Trap’.  Sydney Morning Herald. December 6, 2011. http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/management/is-your-desk-a-death-trap-20111206-1ogd2.html

[2] Chiropractors’ Association of Australia: Spinal Health Week

[3] Masters, M.  ‘Why Sitting All Day is Killing You’. Msnbc.  26 October 2010. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39523298/ns/health-mens_health/t/why-your-desk-job-slowly-killing-you/#.TtbIybK4qdA

[4] Janwantanakul, P., et al., ‘Development of a risk score for low back pain in office workers – a cross-sectional study’.  BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 2011.  12:23.  http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2474/12/23

[5] Pynt, J., et al. ‘Kyphosed seated postures: extending concepts of postural health beyond the office’, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. 2008

[6] Dunstan, D., ‘Sitting Nine to Five (And Beyond) : The Perils of Sedentary Lifestyles’, The Conversation, 11 August 2011.  http://theconversation.edu.au/sitting-nine-to-five-and-beyond-the-perils-of-sedentary-lifestyles-857

[7] Patel, AV. et al, ‘Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults’, American Journal of Epidemiology 2010.  172: 419 – 429

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