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Here’s What Sitting All Day Does to You (and What to Do About It)

Man rubbing his neck after spending all day at his desk.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

If you find yourself rubbing your lower back or craving a neck massage after a long day of sitting, you’re not alone. Prolonged sitting can have long-term consequences for your spine and the surrounding muscles. Fortunately, you can counteract these effects with just a bit of effort.

Movement Is Essential

Our bodies are meant to move. The way it’s constructed makes this obvious. Anything with over 360 joints and 700 muscles isn’t meant to just sit in one place, relatively motionless all day.

Our lymphatic, nervous, and cardiovascular systems depend on movement for everything to run smoothly. Sitting still for long periods slows down all of our systems. This makes it difficult for fresh oxygen and nutrients to reach every cell to repair and optimize their functions.

Our skeleton also depends on proper alignment, and not just for the sake of our spine, but all the other mechanisms, as well. Our spine is the main pathway of nerves that connect the farthest points in our body. They communicate, trigger, and send signals about which hormones need to be released, which muscles need to be healed, which tissues need to be repaired, and which area needs more nourishment.

When that system is damaged, so is the communication and signaling between nerves. Your muscles function less effectively. As a result, you experience more frequent pain and the problems just stack up over time.

Why Sitting Too Much Is Problematic

It might seem like we’re villainizing sitting, but it’s for good reason. Sitting down creates a downward force that puts all the pressure on your spinal disks and sitting bones. Over time, it creates compression that diminishes the space between each vertebra, leaving less and less room for nerves to send their signals. And that happens even if you’re paying close attention to maintaining good posture.

Add to that the inevitable slouching, curving of your upper back, and bringing your neck forward. Or crossing your legs and transferring your weight to one hip and leaning on one arm more than the other. All of this is a recipe for disaster.

Your body works really hard to adapt to any new position and causes strain and tension in some muscles to allow it. Sure, in the beginning, you might feel totally fine. But after a few hours, you’ll be reaching for your neck or rolling your shoulders back to get some relief.

In addition, sitting can also cause leg muscle atrophy and shortening of the hip flexor muscles. This can lead to severe issues with hip joints and your pelvic girdle.

It’s enough to make you jump out of your chair and go for a walk!

How to Prevent Future Problems

A woman doing a twist stretch on a bench outside an office building.
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Is it possible to prevent these problems from arising if your job requires that you sit in front of a computer all day?

It is! Here are some things you can do:

  • Stretch it out: Implement some gentle, easy yoga stretches during your workday. Do them as often as possible. They’ll improve your blood circulation and focus. They can also help relieve tension in your neck and muscles, and alleviate strain or uncomfortable sensations.
  • Invest in a good chair: It’s no wonder these chairs cost an arm and a leg—they’re your spine’s salvation. High-quality chairs have built-in support. Their ergonomic features prevent your shoulders from drooping and your hips from misaligning.
  • Frequent breaks: Even if you just go to the restroom or water fountain, get up and stretch your legs as often as possible. Simply lifting your arms can help your blood circulate and improve clarity and focus. It also stimulates your digestive system and allows your muscles to feel alive again, sending fresh oxygen from your head to your toes. Try to get up and move every 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Move around during lunch: Even if you bring your lunch from home, move to another location to eat it. Take the opportunity to grab some fresh air and go for a stroll around the building. Your lunch will sit better on your stomach, and you’ll avoid the afternoon crash that usually occurs after a meal.
  • Focus on posture: Pay attention to the shape of your body and analyze your sitting habits. Are you always crossing your left leg over your right? Switch it up to balance out your hips and allow both lower back muscles to stretch. Do you always seem to be only inches away from your computer? Hold your head directly over your pelvis and straighten your spine as much as possible to prevent neck and shoulder strain. Roll your shoulders forward and backward, and let your shoulder blades slide down your back to relax your upper body. Sit firmly on your sit bones without sinking into the chair or leaning back. Give your body the support it needs.

Outside the Office

In addition to paying more attention to your sitting habits at work, there are plenty of things you can do outside the office to prevent any issues that might stem from the ole L-shaped position.

Try to do the following at home:

  • Create a consistent exercise routine: Working out is great for your overall health and well-being. It keeps all your systems in check and promotes optimal function. A consistent workout routine tones your muscles, improves your flexibility and mobility, and protects your joints from strain. Whether you run, swim, or do kickboxing or yoga, it doesn’t matter, as long as you do it frequently.
  • Avoid sitting too much: Binging hours of streaming content is currently the world’s favorite downtime activity. But if you already sit all day at the office, plopping down on your comfortable couch when you get home isn’t going to help you out. Try to be more active during your time off.
  • Do some foam rolling: It’s a great way to relieve muscle tension and soreness. It also helps the body flush out toxins and stretches out the muscles so joints can move more freely. Start with your legs and roll all the way up to your upper back and arms.
  • Elevate your feet: If you struggle with water retention, sitting can worsen the problem because it cuts off your circulation. The L-shaped position also makes it more difficult for water to get flushed out. Plus, excess water in your legs and lower back creates even more compression on your pelvis and hips. Drinking plenty of water and elevating your feet helps stimulate your lymphatic system and encourages it to work.

Many people have to sit all day at work, but it only takes a bit of effort to counteract the toll it can take on your body. You don’t have to just sit there and take it!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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