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Prolonged sitting is unhealthy – how to counteract a sedentary job

Prolonged sitting is unhealthy – how to counteract a sedentary job

How many hours a day do you spend sitting? If you work in an office or have another sedentary job, it's likely around 8 hours or more. It has been known for several years that sitting is unhealthy and increases the risk of certain diseases. But what can you do about it? Quitting your job might be an option, but certainly not the most sensible solution. We'll show you other ways to counteract a sedentary job.

What does prolonged sitting do to your body and health?

“You're sitting is the new smoking” – you've probably heard this saying before. It's meant to illustrate how unhealthy sitting can be. But is there any truth to this statement? Are there scientific studies to support it? We've taken a closer look at the topic and found a review from 2015 that comes to a clear conclusion: sitting increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature death. Other scientists add to this list an increased risk of osteoporosis, obesity, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure, reduced intellectual performance, and aggressive behavior. The World Health Organization (WHO) shares a similar view: they classify physical inactivity as the fourth leading preventable cause of death. That's 3.2 million people worldwide who die from lack of exercise every year.

Sitting is an unnatural posture for the human body. For much of history, people sat on the ground or on rocks for only a few minutes a day. Their daily lives involved more movement, walking, and standing. Sitting was a real luxury back then, something only kings and popes could afford on their thrones. It's only been since the 18th/19th century that chairs became a part of everyday life. Today, we start learning to sit from a young age. Elementary school students, for example, sit for 7-8 hours a day. Later in their working lives, many people experience the same. According to the Journal of Health Monitoring, in 2022, 19.5 percent of the population sits for at least 8 hours daily. If an inactive lifestyle with a lot of sitting in the car, on the couch in front of the TV, or playing video games on the PC is added for work, even more hours can quickly accumulate. Prolonged sitting and lack of exercise are problems that affect many people, and the health consequences are already noticeable.

Why is sitting so unhealthy?

  1. Metabolism takes a break: Do you spend most of your day sitting? Then, your metabolism is practically on pause. When you sit, you burn very few calories, and your metabolism operates at a minimum. Your energy expenditure is roughly equivalent to your basal metabolic rate, which means you're only burning a few calories.
  2. Increased body fat percentage: The declining metabolism becomes especially problematic when combined with a modern diet rich in high-calorie foods. This combination of burning few calories and consuming many calories leads to obesity and associated illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The fat tissue that accumulates due to obesity plays a significant role in health. It releases messenger molecules that can promote inflammation in the body. These inflammations are detrimental to health and can lead to various problems.
  3. Muscle atrophy: While you sit, your muscles remain largely inactive. As a result, they start to atrophy. Furthermore, sitting places stress on the intervertebral discs, and if you adopt poor posture while sitting, it can lead to tension, resulting in chronic back pain.
  4. Muscle shortening: Excessive sitting often leads to muscle shortening, especially in the posterior thigh muscles. The same applies to the anterior shoulder muscles, chest muscles, and hip flexors, which can also shorten due to prolonged sitting at work or at home.
  5. Pelvic floor overload: Particularly interesting for women to know: Prolonged sitting can strain the pelvic floor. When the pelvis tilts backward while sitting, it causes a curved posture, and the organs press against the pelvic floor. This can lead to incontinence and prolapse, especially as you age. Maintaining an upright sitting posture is, therefore, especially important.

Recommended reading: Strength training during menopause

Sedentary Job: compensation

Unfortunately, 1–2 jogs per week or just weightlifting is not sufficient to counteract a sedentary job. This is also the conclusion of a study from Deakin. More compensation is needed for your health. Healthy habits are the key here against unhealthy sitting. We'll show you 5 tips on how to incorporate this into your daily life:

1. Movement during work

Try to incorporate more movement into your workday. Regularly get up from your chair, stretch, change your sitting position, or walk to the neighboring office instead of calling. You can also make many phone calls while walking. A height-adjustable desk can help you work while standing, bringing more movement into your day. Design your workspace so that you consciously have to get up repeatedly. Printers, staplers, and other supplies can be positioned so that you can't reach them while sitting. Professor David Dunstan, head of the Institute for Lifestyle and Diabetes at Deakin University, says:

"By distributing sitting throughout the day, you interrupt the accumulation of sitting time, which essentially restarts the body's engine (our muscles) and reduces the risk."

2. Active commute

Laufen und Gehen als Ausgleich zum Sitzen

Let's be honest: most of us have already been sitting for quite a while before the workday even starts. At the breakfast table, in the car, or on the train on the way to work – we're always sitting. You can make your commute to work more active. Walking or cycling can be alternatives. On the train or bus, you can intentionally stand and train your balance. Or get off one stadium earlier and extend your walk to work. If you rely on a car, consider not choosing the nearest parking spot, but deliberately planning a 5-10 minute walk. You should also avoid the elevator to the office or escalator in the subway and instead pick the stairs. This alone adds more daily movement.

3. Active lunch break

Don't just use your break for eating. You can incorporate a short session of stretching exercises to loosen your muscles and make sitting after the break more comfortable. A short walk during lunchtime can work wonders as well. In addition to that, fresh air and activity improve your concentration.

Extra Tip: If your workplace is near an AURUM studio, even a short but effective workout can fit into a lunch break.

4. No more excuses

There are at least as many excuses as there are sedentary jobs: “My boss won't approve a height-adjustable desk for me. I have so much work that I can't afford to take a break,” and so on. Of course, it would be nice if your boss supported measures to prevent the negative effects of sitting and promoted healthy work, but let's be honest: Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their health. So, no more excuses and take responsibility.

5. Use wearables

Apps und Fitness-Tracker gegen das lange Sitzen

How much do you sit, and how much do you move? It's not so easy to estimate. With a fitness tracker, you can stop guessing. You can count your steps or set reminders to move after 60 minutes of inactivity. How about a challenge with your friends or colleagues, who can take the most steps in a week?

In this blog post, find out why walking is the recovery and relaxation trick of high performers.

How does AURUM support you during prolonged sitting?

  • Building stabilizing muscles and improving bone density.
  • Active relief of back pain. Watch Tobias Hackl's video on how to strengthen your back.
  • Short workouts, more time for everyday movement. The training provides you with the necessary strength for hiking, swimming, skiing, and more.
  • Personal training for added safety: If you've developed poor posture, you should avoid it during training. Your coach is there to help. You'll learn the correct exercise technique, and we'll make improvements if necessary.
  • Motivation for better health: The trainers, your training results, your newfound strength, and perhaps even articles like this one motivate you to move more. Sometimes it's just the little things that make the difference, motivate you to exercise, and thus increase your life expectancy.

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