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Is Sitting Behind Your Desk Bad for Your Health?

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In the United States—and around the world for that matter—people are not as active as they once were. Research estimates that we’re sedentary (not physically active) for an average of 7.7 hours a day. What’s more, less than 20% of us have jobs that require physical activity, with many people spending more than half of the work day seated. All of this time spent sitting can lead to serious health issues—even in people who aren’t usually sedentary. Learn more about these health impacts and what you can do to avoid them.

The downside of sitting

Our bodies are designed to be up and moving when we’re working and playing, and to be seated only when resting. An inactive lifestyle, which can include sitting at a desk for a large part of the day, getting around by sitting in a car or bus, spending time watching TV or surfing the Internet while seated, can affect our bodies in a number of ways. For example, it can cause us to:

  • Burn fewer calories, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Lose muscle strength and have weaker bones.
  • Have reduced blood circulation.
  • Have a weakened immune system.
  • Develop inflammation.
  • Develop hormonal imbalances.

Health problems related to too much sitting

Health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle and not getting regular exercise can raise your risk of:

  • Premature death.
  • Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
  • Metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels).
  • Obesity.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Stroke.

If you sit for long periods of time each day working on a computer, you may be at risk for developing physical strain and overuse injuries. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, signs and symptoms may include:

  • A tingling feeling in the fingers, sore wrists, and lower back pain.
  • Eye strain, including redness, a feeling of dryness and/or soreness, blurry vision, and headache.
  • Soreness in the neck, shoulders, arms, back, thighs, and lower legs (called postural fatigue).
  • Steady pain or discomfort in the muscles and tendons (called repetitive strain injury).

Steps you can take to reduce your risk

Even if your job requires you to sit at a desk and/or spend long periods of time working on a computer, there are things you can do to help avoid or prevent some of the health risks.

1. Make movement part of your workday

  • Get up and move at least once every 60 minutes.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible.
  • When you’re in meetings, stand instead of sitting.
  • Take a walk outside during your lunch and break times.
  • Instead of sending emails or calling your co-workers, walk over to talk to them.

2. Use a standing desk

  • Research has shown that people who use a sit/stand desk had less upper back and neck pain and felt more energized, comfortable, productive, and focused than people who didn’t use one.

3. Set up your workstation properly and pay attention to your posture

  • Your computer screen should be about an arm’s length away from you and the top of your monitor should be at forehead level. This will help you avoid having to look up or down.
  • Your keyboard and mouse should be at a height that keeps your elbows at your side and bent at 90 degrees. This will help you avoid having to reach too far to use them.
  • When sitting, your hips and knees should be at 90-degree angles. Support your feet on the floor or foot rest.
  • Keep your head directly over your shoulders. Don’t lean forward toward your computer.

While you may not be able to avoid sitting at a desk or working on a computer for long periods of time, following these tips can help you avoid some of the health risks of doing so. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more.

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