How Sitting Down Damages Your Health

During lockdown the amount the average time a UK adult spent sitting down increased dramatically to almost a third of their time awake. No longer having to face a commute and mostly confined to our homes, the most amount of activity most of us did was walking to our kitchen table and an hour of permitted outdoor activity. This move to more sedentary lifestyles doesn’t just have implications for our day to day, it also has a big impact on our health and could account for serious health implications including obesity, heart disease and osteoporosis.

While studies show people that sit down for under 30 minutes a day are at lowest risk of an early death, most of us don’t manage anywhere near such saintly numbers. Even sitting for as little as 60 minutes continuously can cause havoc by impairing your circulation and putting your arteries under stress. Two hours of constant sitting is enough to raise your blood sugar and fat levels which are often associated with a higher BMI and cardiovascular disease. Of course, being sedentary for long periods of time isn’t just damaging to your waistline, it impacts your skeletal health too; not only are you more prone to joint, neck and back pain from a poor posture (especially if there’s a screen involved), some studies found that, in women in particular, long periods of sitting accounted for an increased risk in weakened bone density. One study by the University of California also found that sitting for extended amounts of time affected cognitive function by excessively thinning the front temporal lobe, the area in the brain responsible for forming new memories.

What to do if you sit for too long

Moving more, is of course, the answer, but it matters when and how you do so. Essentially, the more active your breaks are the better, so schedule a five-minute break from your desk every 30 minutes, just as you would a meeting. Start by moving around the room, do some simple stretching, even running up and down the stairs if you can, then graduate to moving more briskly to get your heart rate going. If you can factor in at least an hour’s workout at lunch – surely one of the perks of WFH ­– something that is intense and really gets the blood pumping is best. A very brisk walk, cycle or run will do.

As well as breaking up desk time during working hours, think about how you can factor in more movement outside of work hours too. Working out first thing, before you even get to your desk, helps you start the day with more energy and focus and sets the tone for the rest of the day, meaning you’re more likely to stay active and make positive choices about nutrition. Going for a 10-minute walk after dinner will improve digestion and is a good way for your body to wind down and prepare for sleep, which will in turn help improve your mood.

To keep the cognitive side of things out of decline, challenge your mind regularly by taking active mind breaks during the day. Doing a puzzle, a crossword or some mental maths is a good way to keep your brain sharp.