Sitting: Physical Consequences

I’m sure you’re aware of the studies that associate sedentary lifestyles with heart disease, obesity and poor overall health (if you’re not, you will be in a minute). But considering there’s no shortage of cubicle-based jobs that require employees to sit seven or eight hours a day, a sedentary lifestyle is basically forced upon many of us. In efforts to convince people to take responsibility for their actions and choices, it is important not to forget that quite often, people are trapped in unfavorable circumstances. Believe me, when clients tell me they sit at a desk all day, typing on a computer, then go home exhausted, too tired to engage in any sort of exercise… I understand. However, I’m going to be blunt here and assure you that in addition to metabolic disorders, excessive sitting can also cause muscle imbalances in the body that can eventually result in injuries. My sympathy isn’t going to be enough to put you back together when your job or lifestyle causes you to fall apart, but fortunately, I bring more than sympathy to the table.

Here are a few physical consequences of excessive sitting:

  • Tight hip flexors, causing anterior pelvic tilt (a bad case of anterior pelvic tilt will cause the stomach to protrude forward and the butt to tilt backward).
  • Tight hamstrings, which are the culprit in many sports-related injuries.
  • Tight external hip rotators, limiting mobility of the hip joint.
  • Limitation of range of motion in the thoracic and lumbar spine.
  • Assorted aches and pains in muscles and tendons, particularly in the wrists, shoulders, lower legs, back, and neck.
  • Poor posture.

While correction of sitting-related problems can be a complex matter (call my office), preventive measures are an excellent idea for anyone who finds themselves confined to an office chair for multiple hours a day. So how do we go about reducing the risk of these problems?

  • Sit in a manner that is ergonomically efficient: upright posture, relaxed shoulders, and knees equal height or lower than hips.
  • No slouching in your chair or sitting with legs crossed for extended periods of time.
  • Take breaks and stand up as often as possible. Also, frequently check to make sure you’re sitting with proper posture.
  • Do some stretches at the office
    • Wall Lean
    • Thoracic Extension
    • Hip Flexor Lunge with Overhead Reach
  • And some strengthening exercises at home
    • I-Y-T-W on Stability Ball
    • Plank with Alternating Leg Lifts
  • Myofacial Release with foam roller or tennis ball

Oh, by the way, remember those studies I mentioned earlier? The ones that indicate that too much sitting can pose health hazards? Well, here are links to one or two of them, click away:

Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior.

Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 Australian adults.

Sitting and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Occupational sitting time and overweight and obesity in Australian workers.

Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses.

Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults.

Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Impact on hemostatic parameters of interrupting sitting with intermittent activity.

Too much sitting–a health hazard.

I’m sure you get the point by now. Besides, copying all these links is giving me carpal tunnel syndrome.

I’ll be doing a workshop in the Philadelphia burbs on this very topic (what an amazing coincidence!) in late January, so if you want to learn how to fix yourself up, then come and visit me.


Knopf, Karl. “Exercise Therapy, Third Edition.” Carpinteria, CA. International Sports Sciences Association. 2013

Schoberth, Hans. “Sitting, Sitting Injuries, and Seats.” Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.