The Hidden Costs Of Sitting Too Much

Sitting may seem natural to you, but it’s a different story for your body. As a result, sitting can lead to health ailments that can affect your freedom and independence in life. Learn why sitting too much can lead to muscular imbalances and how to prevent it from happening.

By Aditi
02 Dec 2022

An increasing number of studies and research show that sitting too much can have a lasting impact on your health. The effects of poor circulation and sluggish metabolism from sitting for prolonged periods trickle into important functions like the regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure, and the body’s ability to torch body fat.

Sedentary habits, like not exercising, sitting or lying down all the time, have increased over time, but especially during the pandemic. But human bodies were never meant to sit too long in the first place. Our physiology is not adapted to sitting on chairs, as a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine (USA) shows. Sitting, in that sense, is a relatively new habit that humans have adopted, with the invention of chairs (the Greek klismos) in the 5th century BC.


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A 2017 study published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that long sitting times were linked with hypertension, exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction, and muscular disorder symptoms in the knees, thighs, and shoulders of office workers. Here’s how you can avoid the adverse health consequences of sitting too much:


How Much Sitting Is Too Much?

Everybody sits. Whether it’s at the office, or at home, however, minimal physical activity combined with excessive sitting can contribute to many conditions, including joint pain.

The University of Leicester’s Sedentary Behaviour Research (UK) team found that on average, people sit for around 9-10 hours per day. These people can be at higher risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and shorter life expectancy.

The team also researched how exercise and physical activity can help counteract the effects of too much sitting. They found that 30 to 75 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day can lessen the consequences of sitting too much. But it’s not just how long a person is sitting, but how they’re sitting as well that can impact their overall health.


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Research suggests a possible reason for health risks associated with prolonged sitting is that it relaxes the largest muscles. In a relaxed state, these muscles (quadriceps and gluteus maximus) consume little glucose from the blood, raising the risk for type-2 diabetes.

Sitting too much also tightens the hip flexor and hamstring muscles which causes muscular imbalance that can trigger joint pain. Tight hamstrings can impact your walking gait and balance. It can also contribute to stiffness in the knees and lower back pain. Many office workers also report disc prolapse and premature degeneration of joints because of excessive sitting. Muscular imbalance can lead to headaches, poor posture, sleeping issues, digestive problems and anxiety from chronic pain.


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In the absence of exercise, sitting for a long period can interfere with effective burning of calories, since energy requirements lessen and food intake doesn’t. Since the body consumes more than it burns, people tend to gain weight. Unhealthy weight gain can cause several problems, which include joint pain and metabolic syndrome. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine also shows that prolonged sitting raises the risk of dying of heart disease by 18 per cent.


Incorporating Movement In Your Life

Rehabilitative physiotherapy is a recommended way to counter joint pain, muscular imbalances and body pain. Offsetting sitting time with active time can lead to better management of joint pain and other ailments caused by excessive sitting. Preventing long periods of inactivity by getting up every 50 minutes for five minutes can also go a long way in preventing these conditions from appearing.


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For working individuals, sitting for long hours can’t be avoided. Incorporating movement while working seems like a lot of work, but little changes can lead to big results. Breaking up long blocks of sitting by getting up and taking a short walk is one way to prevent muscle stiffness. Consider switching out your working chair for a stability ball, which will help you engage your core, balance, and posture.

Taking calls while standing can also help relieve the pressure in the joints while increasing blood circulation. Setting timers to remind yourself to move is another simple way to keep moving throughout the day. Stretching as soon as you get off your chair will free your muscles and prevent pain.



A standing desk is ideal, but if not possible, try to sit correctly. Sit upright, with your hands at a 90-degree angle from your body and shoulders relaxed. Don’t tense your shoulders (pull them away from your ears), arms or hands, as this can lead to compression and tension. Get up when your body feels tense if only to rotate your shoulders or stretch your hands.


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Finding New Ways to Move During Your Day

Instead of texting your colleague, take the opportunity to walk to their desk. Take the stairs where possible and walking instead of driving where you can is ideal. If you drive to work, try parking away from the building to walk more.

The University of Leicester team also reported seeing significant improvement when individuals took short five-minute breaks to do light movements like arm exercises or walking every thirty minutes. The research showed that high-risk groups, like those with high BMI, females and South Asians showed the highest improvement when incorporating light movement.

A 2020 study published in the Korean Journal of Family Medicine reports that one-third of the global population aged above 15 years are physically inactive, leading to worsening health.


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New activities that encourage you to move around should be embraced entirely. It might take a while to get into them, but the effort is worthwhile when you’re rewarded with more energy and better health. New Year resolutions that revolve around movement and new activities you want to try is a great way to start. Think about starting yoga, cycling and daily walks to get more movement.

While it might seem like a challenge to move throughout the day, especially on days when you’re busy, consciously reminding yourself to move can make a big impact. It can be the break your brain requires to remain stress-free, and function with better productivity.


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