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What Happens to Your Body When You Sit 8+ Hours a Day

— And How To Fix it

By Dominic Pereira

Since the start of 2020’s chaos, most of us had no other choice but to adapt to the “lockdown lifestyle” which caused us to sit even more! Can you still call it a lifestyle if you sit glued to your desk for eight hours and then onto the couch, binge-watching your favourite series for another four! Yes, an unhealthy lifestyle.

We know working for eight hours (or more) a day is unavoidable for most and sometimes it’s what you need to crush your career goals. We also understand that during the initial part of lockdown, some felt they could only watch Netflix the entire day as a form of entertainment. But have you ever taken a step back and thought about the negative impact it has on your body?

Our bodies aren’t meant to be in a seated position for extended periods. Sitting for so long can increase your risks of type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Don’t worry, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting diabetes, but all the sitting isn’t helping your body in any way.

Want to hear some good news? According to The Mayo Clinic, “60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting.” Now there’s no excuse to skip out on that Pilates class again. There’s nothing a few “desitting” exercises can’t fix!

What Happens to Your Body When You Sit 8+ Hours a Day

What Happens to Your Body When You Sit 8+ Hours a Day | Neck pain

1. Cardiovascular Issues

According to WebMD, sitting too much can cause your brain to look similar to that of a person with dementia. It can also raise your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

How can you be at risk of diabetes from sitting too much? When you sit for extended periods, the cells in your body don’t respond well enough to the insulin your pancreas produces, thus causing your pancreas to produce more insulin.

2. Weak Muscles & Muscle Degeneration

Sitting too long can bring all sorts of problems. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weak legs and glutes (muscle atrophy), tight hips (when you sit, your hip flexors shorten), and a possibility of developing hyperlordosis — a condition where there’s an excessive spine curvature in the lower back.

Since most of us have bad posture, too much sitting can wreak havoc on your back. Having poor posture can lead to premature disc degeneration, resulting in chronic pain.

Investing in a standing desk or ergonomic chair might help you stand more.

3. Increased Anxiety and Stress

Not only can sitting too much cause physical issues but mental ones as well. According to a study done by HealthDay News, people who spend long hours sitting are more likely to feel anxious.

“The findings, researchers said, do not prove that sitting in front of a TV or computer causes anxiety. For one, it’s possible that anxiety-prone people choose to be sedentary.” But being sedentary can definitely contribute to negative emotions whereas movement that creates blood flow and endorphins to be released, together with fresh air always create a sense of wellbeing. Our mantra: “the only workout you regret is the one you DIDN’T do.”

4. Increased Cancer Risk

According to a study done by Dr David Dunstan, a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of lung cancer by 54%, uterine cancer by 66%, and colon cancer by 30%.

5. Varicose Veins

Sitting for long periods can literally start to show its effects on your body via varicose veins (or spider veins — much smaller veins). The condition is caused by blood by pooling in your legs.

Although varicose veins aren’t harmful, these swollen veins can lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or deep vein blood clots. Read more about DVT here.

6. Strain in Neck, Back, and Shoulders

Since you’re hunched over your computer 90% of the time, it can cause considerable postural strain in your upper body which can lead to many other issues like headaches.

Keep in Mind

According to WebMD, it’s possible to undo all your hard work at the gym if you work out for two hours but sit the rest of the day.

That doesn’t mean you should give up on exercise or movement! This should only lead you to move more and sit less.

The Exercises You Need to Do If You Sit All Day

Yoga

Yoga can really help stretch out and strengthen those weak and strained muscles. There’s a yoga pose for everything! And the breathwork and mindful movement create a sense of wellbeing.

Pilates

Pilates might help you develop a strong core, according to popular belief, but this popular workout does so much more than that. You’ll be able to strengthen your glutes, legs, back, shoulders, and all the other muscles affected by sitting. And it helps you develop a keen sense of body awareness.

Walk

Try to stand up and take a quick walk every hour. It doesn’t need to be around the block, simply walking around the house will suffice! And try to stand up every 20 minutes and do some basic stretches for two or three minutes.

Exercises to Try

Doing the below exercises daily, can help “reset” your body after a long day at work or on the couch.

Warmups to Try

Walking in Place or in a Circle

Stand upright and start lifting your knees, as if walking in one place. You can either walk in one position or turn in a circle.

Calf Raises with Quick Jumps

Start by doing a few calf raises for about 30 seconds. This will really help warm up your calves and pump your blood back up to the rest of your body. After 30 seconds, lightly bounce up and down, landing softly on your feet. Keep your knees slightly bent to protect your knees from the impact. You want to feel “springy” and elastic as you bounce.

Bonus
While jumping, shake out your wrists to warm them up for the rest of the exercises.

Glute Warm Up

  1. Start by standing on your left leg, knee slightly bent, and lift your right leg up in line with your hip.
  2. Slowly extend your right leg to the back without letting your feet touch the floor.
  3. Bring your right leg back up and repeat on this side for about 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Single and Double Leg Bridges

Double Leg Bridge | Photo Credit: Women’s Health
Single leg bridge
Single Leg Bridge | Photo Credit: moveOn 89 Studio

Single or double leg bridges are great for engaging the largest glute muscle called the gluteus maximus (Shown as B in the graphic below) as well as the hamstrings.

gluteus maximus illustration
Photo Credit: Aloha Hands

How to do a Double Leg Bridge:
Start on your back, laying flat on the floor.
Bend your knees, feet flat on the floor. Try to place your feet as close to your glutes as possible without arching your back. (Optional: Add a rolled up towel between your knees to activate your adductors (inner thighs).)
Start by doing two spine or pelvic curls to mobilise your spine: Tuck your tailbone and slowly peel your pelvis off the floor and then peel your spine off the mat bone by bone.
Keep your tailbone tucked and your chest low. Squeeze the towel and relax the muscles in your face.
Slowly lower back down to the floor, bone by bone again.
The bridge: now keep your pelvis neutral and simply lift your hips and ribs in one movement to form a bridge, keeping shoulder blades down.
Lower pelvis and ribs as one unit to the mat.
Repeat for 12 reps.

For an added burn
After doing 12 reps of glute bridges, remain at the top and lift and lower your heels.
Keep squeezing your towel and your glutes as you do the calf raises.

Dead Bug

No animals were harmed during this exercise!

Although the name sounds strange, the dead bug is an amazing stabilising exercise that focuses on your core muscles.

How to perform the Dead Bug:
Start on the floor by laying on your back.
Raise your arms to the ceiling hands above your chest.
Bend your knees at 90 degrees bringing your knees above your hips.
Keeping your core engaged, slowly extend your left leg until it’s straight while extending your right arm above your head.
Bring your arm and leg back to the starting position, and repeat on your right leg and left arm.
Once you’ve completed both sides, that’s one rep. Alternate for 12 reps in total.

High Plank with Knee-hover / 4-Point Kneeling Hover

High Plank with Knee-hover
Photo Credit: Popsugar

Have you ever heard the term “If you think a minute goes by really fast, then you’ve never done a plank.” Although many people tremble at the thought of doing a plank, this exercise is an amazing full-body exercise.

How to do a High Plank with Knee-hover:
Prep: Hovering Knees: Start on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips. Engage your core and hover your knees just off the mat, spine neutral.
Hold for 5 breaths. Progress to full version: start in high plank with hands under shoulder and legs stretched out.
Take a deep breath in and sit back without your knees just off the floor, same as “hovering knees”.
Inhale then straighten back into a plank.
Complete 3 sets with 4 reps each.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

If done correctly, this stretch is the perfect movement to target your hip flexors. Sitting for extended periods causes your hip flexors to shorten, making them feel tight and inhibiting functional movement at the hip joint.

How to do a Hip Flexor Stretch:
Start by kneeling on the floor.
Step your right foot out in front of you, keep your hands on your hips, tuck your tail under and squeeze your left glute.
Slowly start to press your hips forward (only as far as you can, don’t force it).
Try to hold each stretch for 20 seconds.

Cat-Cow

The cat-cow stretch is ideal for stretching both your back muscles and abdominal muscles. It’s also great for opening up your chest.

How to do the Cat-Cow:
Start on your hands and knees, shoulders above your wrists, hips above your knees.
Inhale and lift your chin and chest to gaze forward while lifting your sitting bones to gently arch your lower back.
Exhale and draw your belly in and round your back to the ceiling into a long c-curve.
Continue the movement for 10 breaths.

Bird Dog

This move might seem confusing at first, but practising slowly, in the beginning, will ensure you alternate your hands and legs without a problem. The bird dog move activates your sling patterns and strengthens your pelvic and shoulder girdles.

How to do the Bird Dog:
Start on all fours, ensuring your core is engaged and your back isn’t arching.
Keeping your core engaged, extend your right arm overhead with your thumb pointing to the ceiling while simultaneously extending your left, toes pointed towards the floor.
Place your hand and leg back on the floor and repeat on the other side.
Do this exercise slowly to ensure you’re not rotating your hips.

Seated Windscreen Wipers

Windscreen wipers are the ideal exercise to restore your range of motion by opening up your hips and improving hip mobility.

How to do Windscreen Wipers:
Start by sitting on the floor, your legs open with your knees bent. Place your hands behind your back and lean slightly backwards.
Slowly roll your pelvis and knees to the left. As you do this, open up your chest and rotate your head and chest left.
Slowly roll back to the starting position.
Repeat on the right.
Continue rolling left and right for 30 seconds.

Side Leg Raises

Side leg raises have numerous benefits including improving range of motion in your hips, waking up muscles that are “asleep” from sitting too long, and helping to stabilise your body.

How to do Side Leg Raises:
Lay down on your left side on the mat, with your left knee bent and your arm underneath your head. Place your right hand behind your head, elbow pointed to the ceiling.
Simply lift your right leg and point your toes.
Lift your leg 10 times.

For an added burn:
After completing 10 leg raises, rotate your leg externally at the hip joint, point your toes up 45 degrees.
Slowly bring your right knee and right elbow together and let them “connect”. Then “disconnect” by straightening your arm and leg.
Repeat this motion for 10 reps.
Once complete, repeat everything on your left side.

Shoulder W’s

Shoulder W’s
Photo Credit: Ace Fitness

Shoulder W’s are another effective movement for your back.

How to do Shoulder W’s:
Start by laying on the floor with your arms at your sides, knees bent.
Bring your arms up, palms facing the ceiling until your hands are next to your head.
Lift your arms and hands slightly until it’s hovering above the floor.
Slowly straighten your arms until you’re forming a W, then bring them back down, almost touching your hips.
Repeat for 12 reps.

Seated Glute Stretch/Figure of Four

A seated hip stretch is an amazing move to stretch and open your hips.

How to do a Figure Four Stretch:
Start by laying on your back.
Place your left foot over your right knee, place your hands behind your right knee and gently pull toward your chest.
Hold that stretch for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

Try to stand up and walk around every 30 minutes.
When you’re watching TV or talking on your phone, stand up and walk around.
Walk around or do exercises while you wait for advertisements to finish when you’re watching TV.
See if your work can organise standing desks for employees.
Suggest walking around during quick meetings with other employees.

Resources:

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