Will Prolonged Sitting Affect Your Health?

By Perrin Braun, July 7, 2023



It's hard to avoid sitting for stretches at a time, whether it be for business or for pleasure. And while hours at a desk or the couch are just normal parts of life now, we are more sedentary than any previous generation. In fact, most adults spend over nine hours a day doing sedentary activities. Research shows that long periods of sitting down, even for people who are otherwise physically active, take a toll on your health—and not just your sore back! It can also increase inflammation in your body and decrease insulin resistance and heart health. Here's why.


Are you an "active couch potato?"

Even if you exercise regularly, sitting hours add up. Let's say you run for 30 minutes, five days each week. But what about your 8 hours at work? Or the time you spend at home in the evenings? The truth is, it’s quite possible to physically active but still fairly sedentary—otherwise known as an “active couch potato” (harsh words, maybe, but don't blame the messenger). While working out is certainly beneficial to your overall health, it does not counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting. 

Extended periods of sitting at work can affect 3 specific biomarkers: 

hsCRP measures inflammation, while the other two are direct indicators of heart health. If these markers are out of range, it might mean it's time for you to change your work desk habits.


Sitting slows the breakdown of fats in your blood

Recent animal studies show that prolonged sitting decreases circulation, and the body can start to shut down on a metabolic level. When rats were prevented from moving around their cages, their levels of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase fell.  This important enzyme works to break down fats in the body, so the sedentary animals displayed signs of insulin resistance and increased levels of fatty acids in their blood.

Most notably, the rats who did produce this protective enzyme were those whose muscles were actively flexed, such as when standing or moving around. Humans also have lipoprotein lipase, and studies show our levels respond similarly—when people sit for a long time (minimizing the amount of muscle activation), lipoprotein lipase production slows, and the risk of poor heart health, increased weight, and high blood sugar increases.


A minute-long walk can reduce your waistline

Moreover, a 2010 study suggested that it’s not just the length of time that we spend sitting that influences our health, but also the number of times that we get up and walk around. In the study, people who took small breaks to get up, even as short as a minute long, had smaller waist circumferences and lower levels of hsCRP than people who didn’t.

One of the most glaring and obvious problems with sitting is that you don’t use much energy doing it. Since you aren’t expending energy, sitting for a prolonged period of time makes it much easier to gain weight and acquire health problems associated with being overweight. Long periods of sitting correlate with poor heart health, inflammation, larger waist sizes, lower levels of HDL cholesterol, and increased levels of triglycerides.

The good news is that even for those subjected to sitting many hours each day at work, frequent standing or walking breaks may mitigate the damage of sitting.  The study found that the more active breaks taken, the smaller the subjects’ waists and the lower their levels of inflammation.


Sitting can actually increase your risk of injury

Long periods of sitting can also result in muscle fatigue, aches, and injuries. Holding a fixed sitting position decreases the blood supply to your muscles, which accelerates muscle fatigue. When you finally leave your chair, you’re more likely to have muscle cramps or strains. Sitting may also cause pressure on the spine, leading to back pain. Slumping over when you sit can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. If you exercise or play sports during non-work hours, the time you spend sitting can catch up with you!


How to sit less

Whether you’re an active or inactive couch potato, there are steps that you can take to avoid the negative health effects of prolonged sitting. Most important—stand up! Set a timer to go off every 30 minutes. When it beeps, stand up and walk around for a few minutes. Take the stairs during breaks, and walk to a farther restroom. Even standing for a minute to stretch your legs is beneficial. If your employer will allow it, try a standing or treadmill desk, or hold a meeting standing up (it keeps the meetings shorter, too). Stand while you are eating lunch.

Even small changes, like standing up to take phone calls or walking over to a co-worker’s desk rather than emailing can provide some crucial breaks from sitting. If you reduce sitting by five minutes every hour, you’ve shaved an hour off your total sitting time at by the end of a long day. After work, if you’re watching TV, get up and walk around during commercial breaks.

Finally, schedule regular InsideTracker blood analysis to monitor your progress in optimizing your inflammation, triglycerides, and cholesterol markers. It’s a great way to keep motivated to stop sitting and stand up!

Learn how your biomarkers affect your body in this FREE e-Book download!

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