Health & Lifestyle

How Sitting Too Much Is Making You Sick And What To Do?

sitting

Have you ever thought how many hours have you been seated in a day? -3? 4? Or 5 hrs? Less?  Or More?

If you are asked this question you will definitely count the number of hours you are sitting continuously in the office or at work. But the fact is you are sitting more than what you are thinking. So here is a calculation for you wherein you need to count the number of minutes you are spending sitting during each activity.

No. Activity Duration of sitting in Minutes 
1. Reading newspaper
2. Breakfast
3. Commuting to work
4. Morning hours of work
5. Lunch
6. Afternoon hours of work
7. Commute home
8. Evening/night meal
9. Watching TV
10. Others/rest

Mostly on an average, a healthy young adult sits for more than 85% of his time when he is not asleep (14.6 hours out of 17 hours of active time). This percentage can go high based on person’s health condition.

The human body is designed for standing and moving, not sitting. As the body moves from standing to sitting, cervical and lumbar spine, which normally curves inward toward the front of the body, flattens and loses equilibrium. Upper body weight falls on back with far less body weight getting transferred to the floor via the lower extremities.

Ayurveda, the science of life, emphasizes on maintenance of health by following the proper regimen, i.e., activities and diet according to the season. Dinacharya (Daily routine) starts from Brahma muhurtam (Appx 4am) following an active life including oil massage on head and body, exercise, walking etc.

Ayurveda considers sitting for a long time as an etiological factor for various disease conditions like Prameha (Disorders of urinary tract like Diabetes mellitus), Shotha (edema/swelling), Vatashonita (Gouty arthritis) and sitting in improper place or position results in Vataja jwara (Fever), Vataja gulma (Gastric problem), Vatajaprameha (Diabetes mellitus), Arshas (Piles), Vatavyadhi (Neurological and joint disorders). It has been specifically mentioned that traveling or riding continuously on uneven roads, increased speed will lead to Arshas (Piles), Mutrakrucchra (Disorders of uro-genital organs) and Vatavyadhi (Neurological and joint disorders).

Ayurveda stands on Tridosha theory i.e., Our body is made of Vata, Pitta and Kapha Dosha. Imbalance in these 3 Dosha (humours) of the body causes disease. Vata dosha is light, dry, quick, cold and moving in nature. Vata increases on physical activity and imparts its qualities on body whereas Kapha dosha is antagonistic to Vata dosha, having qualities like heavy, cold, soft, oily, sweet, slimy etc which increases on being sedentary and imparts these qualities on the body. Pitta dosha is hot, sharp, oily, fluidic etc. In sedentary lifestyle imbalance is seen in all 3 Doshas, especially increase in Vata and Kapha dosha.

Understanding the impacts of prolonged sitting on various systems of our body- 

  • Musculo skeletal system-
  1. Neck pain-caused due to tightening of neck muscles in order to keep the head straight. The forward pull of the weight of the head and improper alignment of head and spine can cause degenerative changes due to undue stress on the vertebrae of the neck. Prolonged shearing of the vertebrae from forward head posture eventually irritates the small facet joints in the neck as well as the ligaments and soft tissues. This irritation can result in neck pain that radiates down to the shoulder blades, hands, and upper back.
  2. Back pain – muscles of the upper back continually overwork to counterbalance the pull of gravity on the forward head in sitting posture. The weight of the upper body always puts loads on the lower back and the lower back is subjected to a lot of mechanical stress and strain also causing reduced )-shaped curvature in the low back [decreased lumbar lordosis]. Back muscle stress or ligament strain causes acute lower back pain.
  3. Disc herniation and nerve related problems– Prolonged stress on back bones leads to weakened disc and also change in the curvature of the spine. Reduction in height of the disc force the outer wall past its normal boundary (this is often called a bulging disc). The stress also can create small fissures within the wall, which may develop into ruptures and permit the extrusion of nucleus material called as ruptured or herniated disc bringing about pain, muscle spasms and sciatic nerve impingement causing radiation of pain to legs.
  4. Muscle weakness– Spending long hours at work without using muscles can cause muscle fibers to break down and can make muscles weak over time. This occurrence is known as muscle atrophy. Additionally, the added pressure to the muscles on the back of thighs, buttocks can affect blood circulation, leading to muscle breakdown and muscle wasting.
  5. Knee pain– sitting with knees flexed at ninety-degree angle puts pressure on the kneecap leading to vague or diffuse pain and swelling in the patella (kneecap) area, or on either side of it, which is called as Patellofemoral pain syndrome. It also leads to inflammation of the synovium or synovitis.

According to Ayurveda, pain is a symptom of aggravated Vata and stiffness is a symptom of aggravated Vata and Kapha. On prolonged sitting, movements of Vata will be obstructed; improper posture and excessive mental work further aggravate Vata. Kapha gets aggravated due to physical inactivity. Exposure to AC/cold aggravates Vata and Kapha. The combination of aggravated Vata and Kapha dosha leads to musculo skeletal disorders like pain, disc bulge, stiffness in muscles and joints.    

  • Metabolic disorders-

Sitting or reclining is a sedentary behavior with little or no energy expenditure. This eventually leads to metabolic disorders.

  1. Obesity– Obesity develops when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure (energy loss via metabolic and physical activity) over a prolonged period of time, leading to an accumulation of body fat. The Less physical activity also leads to decrease in a number of calories expended. Obesity increases the risk of elevated blood sugar, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia.
  2. Increased cholesterol and Heart disease– Lack of exercise increases LDL cholesterol – bad cholesterol and decreases good cholesterol- HDL. Reduced physical activity brings adverse changes in heart function, glucose tolerance, and cholesterol metabolism. Prolonged sitting predicted increased cardiovascular risk. Polygenic hypercholesterolemia caused by obesity, sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).
  3. Diabetes mellitus– Food is broken down into compounds — one of which is glucose — and is then released into the bloodstream. The pancreas releases insulin, which allows glucose to enter cells as a source of energy. When a person is inactive, his body actually needs to work harder to absorb sugar and make pancreas release insulin. In this inactive state, also body cannot use insulin effectively. This is known as insulin resistance. This leads to too much stress on the cells that make insulin, becoming an important diabetes risk factor. Also, the pancreas sends out even more insulin to help, but instead of turning the food into energy, it stores the excess as fat. This creates an increase in blood sugar levels and can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  4. Digestive problems– The mixture of movement and gravity helps food travel through the digestive system and aids in digestion. A sedentary lifestyle slows down the digestive process and causes reduced digestion and constipation.

Obesity, CHD, increased cholesterol, Diabetes mellitus are all considered to be interrelated according to Ayurveda.  Due to reduced physical activity Kapha dosha and Medodhatu (adipose tissue) gets aggravated and this further gets vitiated by a diet rich in calories, carbohydrate, and fat. This results in the formation of Ama (toxins) which circulate along with Rasa dhatu (Lymph) in the body producing metabolic disorders. Improper movement of Vata also hampers the digestion process.

  • Ano-rectal diseases-
  1. Piles– Due to increased pressure in the blood vessels in and around the anal region, the veins in the anal region become engorged and cause piles.
  2. Fissure– Elevated anal pressure also exacerbates the ischemic state of the posterior commissure and the sphincter and reduces anodermal blood flow leading to the formation of the fissure.
  3. Fistula– Fissure can eventually lead to abscess and fistula by providing a path by which infecting organisms can reach the intramuscular spaces.
  4. Pilonoidal sinus– continuous sitting causes irritation on the gluteal cleft. Gravity and irritation of the skin on buttocks create a vacuum that pulls on the hair follicle, allowing bacteria from the skin to enter the area, leading to local inflammation and infection causing pilonidal cyst or sinus.

Aggravated Vata dosha is the main culprit in the causation of Anorectal diseases. Prolonged sitting increases Vata in the anal region and this aggravated Vata instead of Anuloma gati (Moving downwards) moves in an upward direction acting as a causative factor and aggravating factor for ano rectal diseases.

  • Vascular disorders-

Chronic venous insufficiency and Deep venous thrombosis (DVT)- When legs remain still for long periods, calf muscles don’t contract to help blood circulate. Augmentation of venous stasis increases the risk of blood clots causing pain, swelling and black discoloration in legs.

Due to improper lifestyle and unhealthy diet aggravated Vata and vitiated Rakta (Blood) circulates in the body and causes Vascular disorders.

  • Psychological disorder

Depression-Brain depends on strong blood flow, good oxygenation, and optimal glucose metabolism to work properly.  While being sedentary skeletal muscle fibers are not contracting, particularly the large muscles of your lower limbs leading to poor metabolism. Anti-depressant mechanisms could be related to anti-inflammatory and neurochemical effects of physical activity. Serotonin and dopamine, the neurochemicals of happiness are produced during low-intensity exercises.

Rajas and Tamas are the factors related to mind which aggravates due to increased Vata and Kapha respectively, causes Chinta (excess thoughts), Bhaya (fear), Shoka (grief) etc Manasika roga (disorders related to mind).

Prolonged sitting is unavoidable for most of the population due to the occupation. Even after adequate exercise in the morning or evening, the consequences of prolonged sitting cannot be reversed due to the continuous damage to the tissues. Hence, it has become a risk factor for poor health and early death.

Not only breaking the continuity of sitting which will reduce pressure on spine and buttocks, and improves the circulation and metabolism, but also bringing balance in Tridoshas of body and psyche is the need of the hour for attaining healthy body and mind.

How to achieve balance in Tridoshas*- 

Lifestyle                                               Diet                              Therapeutic approach
ü  Waking up early in the

Morning

ü  Exercise/physical activity

ü  Oil bath

ü  Short breaks at work wherein moving around, stretching or mild physical activity can be done.

ü  Standing at workstation every 15-20 min.

ü  Using standing desks during calls, reading newspaper or journals, while having food.

ü  Using stairs instead of lifts or escalators.

ü  Avoiding phone calls/ intercom if could be and direct communications with indoor employees

ü  Avoiding day sleep

ü  Eating dinner at least 2 hrs. before going to bed

ü  Using hot water for drinking

ü  Intake of suitable fruit in the day time

ü  Avoid uncooked, cold food, salads, curds

ü  Avoid oily, fried food

ü  Avoid sprouts

ü  Avoid continuous non-vegetarian food

ü   Avoid incompatible food

ü  Avoid fermented food

ü  Therapeutic oil massage on head and body

ü  Steam

ü  Periodic detoxification

ü  Shirodhara (pouring of oil on forehead)

ü  Padabhyanga (oil massage on foot)

ü  Karnapoorana  (Filling of oil in ears)

ü  Anjana (Medicated Kajal)

ü  Pratimarsha nasya (Instillation of oil into the nose)

*There will be some variations in lifestyle, diet and therapeutic approach based on the season, Prakruti (basic trait) of the individual, any existing disease condition.

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About the author

Guest Author

Dr. Harshitha Rai

Joining hands in the journey of Readoo.in, the guest authors will render you stories on anything under the sun.

  • Arathy R Krishna

    Well done Dr. Harshita. Very informative article
    .

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