The effects of sitting too long

January 26, 2018


Much of our professional and personal life revolves around sitting.  We sit at breakfast, on the way to work, at work, at lunch, more work, home from work, and usually we rest at home while seated. If you get 8 hours of sleep, 1 hour of exercise, and 2 hours of incidental walking during the day, you might still be getting 13 hours on your rear end! It’s a lot of time being sedentary, for better or for worse.  This is what happens to your body when you spend many hours in a seated position.


- Adaptive shortening of muscles: 

Shortening is a more severe form of tightness because it causes the natural length of the muscle to reduce. A tight muscle can re-achieve it’s length with stretching and hydration, but an adaptively shortened muscle needs time and rigorous stretching routines to return to it’s functional length.


Hip flexors become shorter over time which tilts the pelvis backwards, compresses the lumbar vertebrae, and limits hip extension while taking large strides when walking and running.


Lumbar extensor muscles become short and rigid.  There are dozens of muscles along the spine and ribs which can be an inch long up to a foot long all throughout the spine. Rigid spinal muscles also increases joint pressure along the vertebrae and disc, making chronic conditions like arthritis become more sensitive.


Hamstrings and Calves become shorter, resulting in further pelvic distortion and reduced reaction time of knee and hip movement during sudden direction changes or when traveling on uneven surfaces, placing the knees and ankle’s stability at risk.


- Pronounced forward head carriage:

Neck and shoulder blade region tension develops when your head leans forward, even if slightly but over time. When the head is carried forward for long periods in the gravitational position of sitting, the subtle compression forces accumulate to produce restrictions in range of motion for the lower neck segments. Consequently muscles have to work harder to strenuously move the head and neck.


- Digestion slows down:

Our digestive tract consist of involuntary smooth muscles, and depend majorly on body movements to assist the digestive process.  Substances that sit too long in the intestinal tract become rancid, gassy, and thus produce abdominal distension and discomfort. Additionally, slow digestion means increased fluid retention and swelling to the legs and abdomen.


- Reduced spinal motion affects cerebrospinal fluid flow:

Like our digestive tract, the central nervous system’s flow of fluid and circulation depends on movement and respiration. When the spinal fluids are inadequately stimulated by spinal movements and lack of deep breathing, the brain can become foggy and less alert over time. It’s one of the reasons why sitting for long periods can be exhausting by the end of the day even though energy expenditure was minimized.


- Last but not least, reduced metabolism during prolonged sitting makes the body temperature drop, convert excess calories into body fat, and deconditions the heart muscle!


In summary, sitting appears s


o harmless and restful, but over long periods compounded by lifestyle and diet, prolonged sedentary behavior can foster conditions like heart disease diabetes and various orthopedic dysfunctions.  Strive to balance out your voluntary confinement with physical activity and exercise, the only antidote for stillness that cannot be found in a bottle of medicine!


Dr. Adrian is an educator, Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a private practice Chiropractor in South Pasadena since 2000.

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