Health Problems from Sitting Too Much

What are the risks of a sedentary lifestyle?

Author: Patricia Bratianu RN PhD RH-AHG

Many of us just do not get enough exercise. Working in an office, watching television, and working inside are common today. We have heard that sitting too much is harmful to our health. What dangers do a sedentary lifestyle actually present?

Sadly, being inactive puts us at risk for some of the most serious health issues of our time. The good news is that you can consciously make the decision to move more, get outside, and reduce your risks.

A sedentary lifestyle puts you at increased risk of developing blood clots in the legs. These can dislodge and travel to the lungs causing pulmonary emboli. They can travel to the brain and cause strokes. If you develop blood clots, you will need to be hospitalized and receive heparin intravenously. You will then need to either be on injectable heparin, which you will have to administer yourself into your abdomen for a long time, or you may need to take warfarin, commonly know as Coumadin, which is a blood thinner.

While on blood thinners, you will need to have frequent blood tests. Most people who require treatment for blood clots remain on medication for the rest of their lives. Blood thinners have side effects including bleeding. Blood clots can occur at any age. Sitting with legs crossed is especially hazardous as it puts pressure on the blood vessels of the legs where clots are most likely to arise from. Complicating this scenario is the fact that sedentary people tend to put on weight.

Weight gain is often accompanied by higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Cholesterol buildup can occur in the veins as well. This not only increases the risk of blood clots but increases the risk of damage to the veins and the development of high blood pressure. High blood pressure puts stress on the entire body. All of the tiny blood vessels throughout every organ get stressed. 

Weight gain and immobility also increase the likelihood of diabetes. Diabetes is tied in with multiple untoward effects on the entire body as well. The circulatory system, vision, and the kidneys are especially at risk.

Immobility results in an increase in stress related illnesses such as anxiety and depression, as well. Movement is needed in order for the body to release endorphins and other hormones which reduce pain and elevate the mood. 

Several studies now show that people need to be exposed to nature on a regular basis. Sitting and watching TV or working at a desk all day does not give you a chance to get exposed to some sunshine for vitamin D, nor does it give you a chance to reap the calming benefits of the natural environment. Studies show decreased levels of stress and decreased blood pressure when people go outside. There are several studies that show that healing is enhanced by exposure to nature. Pain levels are also decreased.

So what are you going to do? You can take breaks. Even just getting up from your desk chair every hour or so to walk around for a minute is a step in the right direction. Better yet, go outside for a walk. Even twenty minutes daily can make a huge difference. That can be broken up into two ten minute walks if time is a factor. Give movement and fresh air a try. You will be amazed at how quickly you feel better.

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