We all know sitting too much isn’t good for us, but what does nine hours in a chair really do to your body? From the real reason behind those unexplained headaches, to why you’re finding it hard to master certain workouts, the experts reveal all…
Eye Strain & Headaches
While staring at a screen all day won’t make you square eyed, prolonged focusing on one point and glare from your computer can trigger myriad eye issues. As Bethany Fothergill, Optometrist at Ollie Quinn explains, “Sitting in front of a screen will more likely than not lead to eye strain; in fact, some 40% of British adults suffer from computer-related eye issues at any one time. If you find yourself with frequent headaches at the end of the day or are suffering from tired, dry eyes, it could be worth popping to your optician.” While eye strain can be easily treated, prevention is the best cure, so be sure to book in for regular eye appointments to ensure you’re wearing the right prescription and ask your optician about special lenses which can help to block out blue light and minimise the strain on your eyes.
Try to take a screen break every 30 minutes and if you’re suffering from particularly dry eyes, it could be worth taking an omega-3 or flax seed oil supplement, which will help to naturally lubricate the eye.
Risk Of Disease
“Humans were never designed to sit down all day,” explains Push Doctor Medical Officer Dr Dan Robertson. “There’s a reason health experts have penned sitting as the new smoking. Almost all the research on the subject suggests that sitting for long periods of time (at least eight hours a day) raises a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome – the umbrella term for conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” A recent study found those who sit for more than eight hours a day are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease and a 2011 study found a decline in insulin response after just one day of prolonged sitting, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
But you don’t have to quit your job to save your health – studies have shown an hour’s worth of daily physical activity can eliminate the negative effects of sitting. “While a stand-up desk probably isn’t an option,” explains Dr Robertson, “try to get up from your desk and move around once an hour and make an effort to take the stairs instead of the escalator or lift – this can make a huge difference.”
Poor Posture & Back Pain
Did you know almost 35m sick days are lost every year in the UK due to back, neck and muscle problems? “The average person isn’t able to sit for more than three minutes without falling into a slumped or ‘slouched’ posture,” says Cheyne Voss, Ten Health & Fitness ten.co.uk Physio Director. “The longer you sit, the worse your posture becomes. Firstly, your lower spine rounds, followed by your upper back, then rounded shoulders and a protruding head. The latter may not seem like a big deal until we remember that the head weighs around 10lbs and for every inch it’s out of alignment, you’re adding an extra 10lbs of pressure on your neck and back. That’s about double the weight of a bowling ball pulling on the spine, neck, shoulders and upper back.”
So how can you improve your posture at work? “The golden rule is to never use your laptop for more than 15 minutes,” insists Cheyne. “They were designed for working on the move, not for fixed working. If working without a laptop isn’t possible, get a docking station or even just a USB keyboard and mouse and raise the laptop to eye level.” If using a computer, set your screen to eye level, elbows to 90 degrees (when typing) and then ensure feet are fixed on the ground.
Weak Muscles & Joint Problems
According to Voss, sitting for long periods can lead to muscle atrophy in the leg and gluteal areas, where the muscles weaken and waste away. Sitting also causes the hip flexors to shorten, leading to issues with hip joints – explaining why certain yoga or Pilates moves could be harder to master. And if you’re a keen runner, you could have a limited range of motion and stride length. Make an effort to stretch your hip flexors on a daily basis – flexible hips help keep you balanced.
If that wasn’t enough, sitting for long periods of time can slow blood circulation, which can trigger swollen ankles and varicose veins as well as increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Exposure To Germs
Finally, if you’re one of the millions of Brits who eats lunch at their desk, it’s worth bearing in mind the average desk space harbours 10m different types of bacteria and the average keyboard some 7,500. Moreover, nearly 30% of workers don’t wash their hands after going to the loo and a cold virus can survive on indoor surfaces for more than seven days if the conditions are right. The bottom line? Make an effort to keep your desk area clean and use a hand sanitizing gel every time you go to the loo.