The daily life of an American is spent in a seat, whether it be in an office chair, on a bus or train, in the car, or on the couch. It’s not that we are lazy. On the contrary, Americans are working intently at their computers, driving in long commutes and running kids to activities. After a long day, it feels good to curl up on the couch with a book or TV program. All of these activities make for a full life; however, almost everything we do involves sitting. And sitting all day may negatively affect the body. At The Vein Care Center of Florida & South Baldwin, we witness the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle in the patients we serve. To improve your health, we want to help you better understand how sitting all day affects your body and offer some ideas regarding how you can add movement to your daily life.
How Sitting Affects Your Body
As sitting time increases, the risk of developing a chronic illness may also increase.
- Diabetes: Long periods of sitting can contribute to insulin resistance in the body and increase blood sugar levels.
- Heart disease: Excess sitting has been linked to an increase in prevalence of heart disease in some studies
- Cancer: Although the exact reasons are unknown, it has been documented that people who sit for extended periods have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers.
Sitting for long periods of time can cause poor blood circulation, cause excessive pressure in the veins of the lower extremities and pooling blood in the legs. These factors can contribute to the development of vein disease. Vein problems can become more serious over time or progress into more severe health conditions.
- Varicose veins: Sitting leads to poor blood circulation and can cause blood to pool in the legs. This pooling creates pressure within a vein that can cause it to twist, widen and bulge into a varicose vein. Although varicose veins are usually not deadly, they can be an indication of a more serious underlying vein problem. Furthermore, varicose veins can be painful and impede your quality of life.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Increased sitting, especially long-term sitting in a car or airplane, can cause a blood clot to form in the leg veins. DVT is a serious health concern, as the clot can inhibit blood flow. It can also be life-threatening if the blood clot breaks away and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
When you routinely sit for extended periods of time, you do not burn as many calories. Your muscles are inactive and therefore do not and cannot adequately process the food that you eat. As a result, fats and sugars remain in your system and can lead to weight gain.
Americans are so busy that they often eat lunch at their desks. Sitting and eating causes the contents in your abdomen to compress, thus slowing digestion. Decreased movement in the digestive tract can lead to bloating, constipation and cramping, which can cause pain and ultimately make you less productive at work.
Sitting places undue pressure on the back and promotes poor posture from the neck to the base of the spine. You may start the day with every intention of sitting with your shoulders back and your core engaged. But as you get busy, you may not focus on your posture and find that your neck, shoulders and back begin to ache. Furthermore, the height of the desk and the position of your arms and hands to the computer keyboard can lead to hunching.
Sitting allows muscles to relax and become stiff. Over time, core muscles can weaken, which may lead to posture problems or back pain. Also, hip joints, glutes and leg muscles can become tight from inactivity. The hips and legs are crucial to balance, so if their range of motion is limited, there is an increased risk of falling.
Movement and exercise release natural, “feel-good” chemicals in the brain that can improve mood, minimize anxiety, reduce depression symptoms, boost memory and enhance overall brain function. Adding small breaks and increasing movement throughout the workday can break up the monotony of your shift while promoting mental and physical wellness.
Exercise is Not Enough
An exercise routine that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat is recommended for overall health. However, research shows that routine exercise may not be enough to combat the negative impacts of sitting all day. People who exercise tend to have fewer health problems, but they are not immune to the adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
How to Fight the Effects of Sitting All Day
You may be thinking to yourself: I have a jam-packed schedule. There is no time to take breaks during the day and no way to avoid sitting. We understand that sitting is part of your day. However, there are small changes you can make to interrupt long stretches of sitting and improve your overall health. Try some of these suggestions and think of other ways to add movement into your daily life, building up to spending half (four hours) of your workday moving in some capacity:
- When you sit, do so with your feet flat on the floor. Avoid sitting with your legs crossed.
- Take breaks every two hours to stand, stretch or walk a quick lap around the office.
- Buy an adjustable desk that allows you to alternate sitting and standing throughout the day. Note that we do not recommend standing for long periods, as that can also negatively impact your health. Finding a balance between the two is optimal for your wellbeing.
- Use a stability ball as your office chair. It encourages good posture and activates stomach, back and leg muscles as you balance on the ball.
- Whenever possible, add “accidental exercise” to your day: take the stairs, park in the back of the lot, walk every aisle of the grocery store or get off one bus stop before your usual stop and walk the rest of the way to your destination.
- Add habits like marching in place while on the phone, “writing” the ABC’s with your feet or doing leg extensions and other leg exercises that can be performed while sitting at your desk.
- If you like to watch TV, do so while riding a stationary bike or walking on the treadmill.
- Sitting often occurs inside—the office, the car, a bus or at home in the easy chair. Take a few minutes to step outside. Being in nature is good medicine, and it just might encourage a walk around the block, gardening or outdoor puttering.
The Vein Care Center is Here to Help
If you are experiencing leg pain or varicose veins, or if you want to learn more about how to increase your activity level, you have come to the right place. Dr. James Jimenez and the caring staff at The Vein Center of Florida & South Baldwin are experts in vein disease diagnosis, treatment and management. With your commitment to a more active lifestyle, The Vein Center team can provide vein treatments and lifestyle recommendations to help you feel better. To schedule a consultation at one of our offices in Pensacola or Destin, Florida, or Foley, Alabama, call us today at 800-910-VEIN.