Is sitting all day bad for health… and blood pressure?

Thanks to the modern day technological advances and, in particular the development of the computer, laptop, tablets and smart phones, many of us in our working lives have become unwitting desk-sitters – spending many hours every day perched on a chair slouching in front of a monitor or laptop.

If we don’t have our eyes glued firmly on the monitor or screen, we are likely on the phone, reading and sending emails, texting, tweeting or checking whatever is trending on the internet at that point in time.

But whatever we are doing rest assured we are not thinking about these endless hours of inactive sitting and are most definitely not giving a thought to the poor posture to which we are constantly subjecting our bodies!

To compound the lack of activity,  after work we are more than likely to come home and spend the evening flopped on the couch watching our favourite shows, or sports events on TV.

In fact it is estimated that the average American office worker spends from 13 – 15 hours sitting each day!!

But Good Health = Staying Active

typical poor posture whilst sitting at computer

Simply put the human body is designed for movement, and the level of daily activity plays a significant part in helping us to stay healthy.

I think we all intuitively know this.  And I am sure that many of us feel a few pangs of guilt after sitting all evening in front of the television, but are usually too exhausted to do anything else after a long and stressful day at the office.

But unfortunately studies have shown that periods of prolonged sitting (more than 8 hours a day) – which at the same time is usually accompanied by very poor posture – can lead accumulatively to many potential health issues.

  • Poor circulation in lower limbs
  • muscle atrophy and loss of bone density
  • high blood pressure, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides
  • greater risk of cardiovascular disease
  • back and neck problems
  • stiffening of the joints

… to name just a few.

What about poor posture and Hypertension?

The link between sitting for excessive periods of time and High Blood Pressure  seems to stem from the poor postural positioning of the back and neck.

A study conducted at the University of Leeds by Jim Deuchars and colleagues discovered that a link exists between the cells in the muscles of the neck and an area in the brain (nucleus tractus solitarius – NTS) responsible for regulating blood pressure. This is crucial, as the brain needs to be able to provide sufficient blood supply whenever a change, such going from a sitting to a standing position, is detected.

However, in the case of repetitive slouching where over time the neck becomes compressed there is a high likelihood that this will lead to abnormal changes in blood pressure.  As Professor Deuchars explains:

‘It’s possible that poor posture, which compresses the neck muscles, may be involved in high blood pressure, too.

In fact, he feels strongly that more research is needed in this area.

Sitting for long periods at work each day? – Try this…

One option at the workplace which is becoming increasingly popular is the Standing Desk.  This is a much healthier option, since people using it find that in reality they are not just trading sitting for standing still.  They are tending to move their weight from one foot to another, or put one foot up on the ledge and thus so continuously changing posture.

“That weight-bearing and adjustment of weight-bearing has a whole series of physiological benefits to the musculature, the balance in musculature, the visual cortex, … and so on.�?

explains Dr James Levine, author of Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It

Other Options

Even if your work requires that you sit at a desk for long periods, don’t despair.  Research has shown that even small breaks from sitting can be beneficial.  So you do still have options:

Some at work are easy to implement, such as using the stairs whenever you get a chance, taking frequent water cooler, or coffee breaks and standing up whilst talking on the phone.

I spend vast amounts of time each day sitting at my computer and one thing which really helps me is to set a timer to go off on the hour.  This is my auditory reminder to get up and stretch my legs for a couple of minutes.  Since, like many people, I become totally oblivious of time when I am focussed on the computer, I really do have to rely on this timer to get my attention and remind me to take a break!

Another of my goals is to be aware of and actually decrease the actual amount of time I spend watching tv in the evenings.  Ideally it should be no more than 2 hours.  And whenever there is a commercial break, or at the end of a show, this is my chance to get off the couch and move around for five or ten minutes.

Also building a short walk in to the evening routine is a worthwhile option, especially as the weather is now improving as Spring has finally arrived (in my neck of the woods.)

Well, now I have finished this post I can get up and reward myself with a good stretch: Boy, does that feel better!! 😀

I encourage you all to become more aware of how much time you spend sitting and to find for yourselves that balance of sitting, movement and activity in your daily schedules.

After all there are times when sitting feels just right, too!!