Don’t just sit there!
We know sitting too much is bad, and most of us intuitively feel a little guilty are a long TV binge. But what exactly goes wrong in our bodies when we park ourselves for nearly eight hours per day, the average for a U.S. adult? Many things, say four experts, who detailed a chain of problems from head to toe.
Reporting by Bonnie Berkowitz; Graphic by Patterson Clark
ORGAN DAMAGE Heart disease
Muscles burn less fat and blood ﬂows more sluggishly during a long sit, allowing fatty acids to more easily clog the heart. Prolonged sitting has been linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, and people with the most sedentary time are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the least.
e pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy. But cells in idle muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin, so the pancreas produces more and more, which can lead to diabetes and other diseases. A 2011 study found a decline in insulin response aer just one day of prolonged sitting.
Studies have linked sitting to a greater risk for colon, breast and endometrial cancers. e reason is unclear, but one theory is that excess insulin encourages cell growth. Another is that regular movement boosts natural antioxidants that kill cell-damaging — and potentially cancer-causing — free radicals.
MUSCLE DEGENERATION Mushy abs
When you stand, move or even sit up straight, abdominal muscles keep you upright. But when you slump in a chair, they go unused. Tight back muscles and wimpy abs form a posture-wrecking alliance that can exaggerate the spine’s natural arch,
a condition called hyperlordosis, or swayback.
Flexible hips help keep you balanced, but chronic sitters so rarely extend the hip ﬂexor muscles in front that they become short and tight, limiting range of motion and stride length. Studies have found that decreased hip mobility is a main reason elderly
people tend to fall.
Sitting requires your glutes to do absolutely nothing, and they get used to it. So glutes hurt your stability, your ability to push o and your ability to maintain a powerful stride.
Poor circulation in legs
Sitting for long periods of time slows blood circulation, which causes ﬂuid to pool in the legs. Problems range from swollen ankles and varicose veins to dangerous blood clots called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
TROUBLE AT THE TOP Foggy brain
Moving muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and trigger the release of all sorts of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals.
When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.