What Happens To Your Body When You Sit All Day

How much would you say you sit during the day? It doesn't seem like much, but once we really examine how much of our time is spent sitting, it can be pretty shocking. Sure, I work out, but I also spend my fair share of couch time gasping at the Real Housewives' latest drama. Just think about it. We sit down to eat breakfast, sit in the car on the way to work, sit at our desk at work, sit at lunch, sit at meetings, sit on the drive home, sit during dinner, and sit while watching TV in the evening. Even if you add in an hour workout before or after work, the majority of the day can be pretty sedentary.

Of course working out is important and beneficial to our health, but even an intense sweat session can't outweigh the dangers of sitting too much. In fact, a January 2015 review in the academic medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine reported that prolonged sedentary time, no matter how much you work out, causes health problems.

Excessive sitting, or a sedentary lifestyle, has unfortunately become the norm in our culture. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is actually the fourth leading risk factor for death among adults around the world.

The Annals of Internal Medicine report found sitting for long periods of time causes changes in our bodies that can't be undone with working out a few times per week. Excessive sitting causes an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, and poor bone density. Sitting for eight to twelve hours per day increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by a whopping 90 percent.

Fortunately, taking breaks from sitting, even just to stand up and stretch for a minute, can help offset these risks.

We sit too much

It's pretty clear that Americans sit too much. According to a Huffington Post poll, the average American adult is sedentary for 60 percent of waking hours and sits for more than six hours per day.

Mayo Clinic recently reported on a study in which the researchers looked at people who sit in front of the television or any screen for less than two hours per day compared with those who spend four hours or more sitting. Those sitting for more than four hours had a 50 percent greater chance of death (no matter the cause) than those in the first group. They also had a 125 percent increased risk of heart disease. These results held true no matter how much the participants exercised.

So if you and your coworker both sit at work all day, you're going to have the same health risks, even if you're a marathon-running soccer mom and he's a videogame-playing couch potato. It is even possible that extreme exercisers like you marathon runners are even more likely to be sedentary when they are not working out. This might happen because we exercisers assume we are immune to sitting disease, but it turns out we're in just as much trouble. Here are just a few of the changes going on in your body as you read this (or have you stood up already?).

Our muscles weaken

Okay, so we know we're probably sitting too much, but how can that possibly be so dangerous? It really comes down to the fact that our bodies are meant to move. Sitting for extended periods truly affects every body system, starting with our muscles. When sitting at your desk at work or over a phone, we all naturally lean forward towards the screen, straining our necks.

Certified strength and conditioning specialist Douglas Lentz told Women's Health that sitting all day also affects all the muscles that support the spine. "When you sit all day, your hip flexors and hamstrings shorten and tighten, while the muscles that support your spine become weak and stiff," he explained. This leads to chronic pain, which could of course make it more difficult to be active in the future.

Chronic conditions

It is not just our back muscles that suffer from sitting all day. Not surprisingly, sitting for most of the day has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. The longer we sit, the fewer calories our bodies burn. Because we're not using our muscles, our heart does not have to pump as hard or fast, allowing fatty acids to build up and more easily clog the heart. In fact, people who are very sedentary or sit most of the day are twice as likely to have heart disease than those who are active throughout the day. Excessive sitting is also linked to increased rates of type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Brain fog

Sitting for too long even affects our brains. When we move our muscles, our heart pumps fresh, oxygenated blood to the brain. Sitting for an extended period of time slows down all of our body's functions, including brain function. If you've ever felt down after a long day in front of your work computer, it might be because excessive sitting is linked to feeling depressed. According to a Harvard University blog post, excessive sitting has even been linked with an increased risk for dementia.

Get up and move

Even though this problem is serious, it's actually pretty simple to fix. All we have to do is stand up and walk around a little during the day. You don't have to give up your office job in order to be more active throughout the day. If you usually sit at a desk during the day, ask your manager if an alternative desk is an option. Some companies actually offer standing or treadmill desks to their employees.

If your boss isn't ready to throw down the cash for a treadmill desk, make sure to plan plenty of standing and walking breaks throughout the day. Even if you don't have a standing desk, you could stand to use the phone or to text. Instead of calling or emailing your work bestie, walk over to her desk to sneak in some extra activity. At least every hour, stand up for a few minutes and walk a lap around the office.

Try setting your phone alarm to remind you to take a standing or walking break. There are even apps to help with this, such as Stand Up! and StandApp.

If you really want to shake things up at the office, try standing up in meetings. Sure, it will totally feel awkward at first, but if you explain that you're simply trying to lower your chances of dying from heart disease, you might start an awesome new trend. Even better, if you are meeting with only one or two others, consider going for a walk together instead of sitting in a meeting room. Everyone will feel better after a little activity and fresh air.

At home, try to sneak in exercise anywhere you can. When watching The Walking Dead, rather than fast-forwarding through commercials, use that time as a walking or standing break. As a rule of thumb, the more activity, the better.