Expert Reveals: Prolonged Sitting on Your Chair Poses Health Risks

For those of us who spend the majority of our day sitting in chairs – whether it be at work, at home, or in cafes – there is concerning news from health researchers. According to a 2017 study of 7,985 adults in America, individuals who spend most of their waking hours sitting down have a higher risk of dying within the following four years.

Interestingly, sitting down while working was not a common practice until a couple of centuries ago. At the start of the 19th century, only one percent of people worked while sitting. Today, three-quarters of us work in office environments where we sit for most of the day. Backrest chairs were not common until the Industrial Revolution, as most people used stools or sat on the floor, which required using back muscles to support themselves.

In today’s world, the situation is quite different. People now sit for extended periods while working. In Mumbai, India’s business capital, professionals are known to work the longest hours, often sitting for 10 hours a day!

Sitting for long periods of time can have a negative impact on our posture and increase the likelihood of experiencing back pain.

The Importance of Standing Up

Several studies suggest that prolonged sitting, ranging from 30 minutes to 12 hours, can be detrimental to our health. When we sit, we tend to hunch over our chairs and strain our spines while staring at computer screens. This uneven pressure on the spine can lead to a shrinking chest cavity. Additionally, sitting burns fat at a slower rate compared to being physically active. It is recommended to take a five to 10-minute break every hour of continuous screen use.

Many argue that sitting is necessary for most jobs today, which often lack physical activity. To combat this, it is essential to make a conscious effort to incorporate exercise into our daily routines. Studies, including the ICMR-INDIAB study, have found that a large percentage of people in India lead sedentary lives and engage in minimal recreational physical activity. This has contributed to the rise of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in the country.

The Role of Exercise

There is ample evidence showcasing the importance of exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A study conducted by the University of Sydney, Australia, and Loughborough University in the UK, analyzed the sedentary behavior of 150,000 Australian adults. The findings revealed that individuals with the least physical activity – those exercising less than 150 minutes per week – had increased risks of premature mortality and cardiovascular diseases. Some scientists also noted that the risk of death increased with prolonged sitting for durations exceeding 30 minutes, regardless of exercise habits.

The Impact of Sitting on Health and Safety

In the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to protect their employees from health risks, including those associated with sedentary work.

In February of this year, the UK government agency, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), commissioned the Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) to provide scientific evidence regarding the health risks of sedentary work. The WHEC’s findings suggest that prolonged sitting increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, colon, endometrial, lung and breast cancers, and depression.

What Can Be Done?

According to the HSE, approximately 507,000 workers have experienced work-related musculoskeletal disorders. This emphasizes the need for employers to take action in promoting fitness among their workforce. Companies should inform their employees about the significant risks of prolonged sitting, including cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality. One potential solution gaining popularity is the use of sit-stand desks in office environments. These adjustable desks allow individuals to switch between sitting and standing positions as needed.

However, not all health experts are in favor of sit-stand desks. Professor Karen Walker-Bone, director at Arthritis Research UK/MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work, explains that while prolonged sitting may strain the back discs, pressure levels have not been shown to be higher compared to prolonged standing. She considers static posture, whether in sitting or standing positions, to be a potential danger.

Organizations like the Lambeth Council in the UK have implemented a “hot-desk” setup in their offices. This means employees regularly switch to different desks and workstations. The equipment is flexible, with fully adjustable chairs and movable PCs. However, employees often forget to make the necessary adjustments for comfortable work. The council takes a proactive approach in educating their employees about the importance of maintaining good posture and taking regular breaks.

Whether investing in sit-stand desks or incorporating more movement into our daily routines, we must remember that our bodies require exercise. They are designed to move, and it is crucial that we avoid prolonged periods of sitting and lounging in chairs for hours on end!



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