In many cultures especially the Buganda culture, to perform certain tasks while standing is something that is frowned upon.
To execute these activities, is an abomination.
Looking back, I now believe that apart from our lifestyles, and the nature of our jobs, our cultures are also to blame when it comes to the habbit of sitting down.
This is something that is so ingrained in us that we feel uncomfortable to carry out a task while standing. Whether our legs can support us or not, we always feel the need to sit down. And this is where our health problems arise from.
According to experts, while there is nothing as good as sitting down when doing something, at a certain point it becomes dangerous to sit the whole day.
They reveal that sitting for a short period of time can allow the body to rest and rejuvenate itself; however, doing it all the time for several hours especially while performing a given task will ultimately hurt the mind and body.
Take for instance today’s corporate workers. These are the kind of people who spend a lot of time behind their desks typing away on their computers.
The only time they move off their desk is when they are responding to a call from their superiors, going for lunch or when leaving for home.
On their way home, those who have cars will drive and those who don’t will either prefer to go to the nearest cab or boda boda than walk to the taxis park or the shortest route home.
And when they reach home, the first thing they will do is to dumb their rugged bodies onto the couch while they watch the news or grab something to eat.
To make things worse, these same people love to go out at night to sit and chat with friends and they are also always on the move travelling here and there for conferences that take long hours with their butt stamped on chairs.
When you look at these people’s routine, you will realise that the one thing they do most is to sit down. And this is from the point they get down to work, eat lunch, on their way home, and while at their homes, during travel and conferences.
According to Toni Brayer, medical advisor to MyLifeStages, a health website, the human bodies were built to stand, walk, bend, and run. However, due to modern lifestyle and the nature of jobs, he says this has forced people to sit still, which is not good for their bodies.
Body’s reaction to sitting and standing up
When a person has been sitting for a long period of time and then gets up, according to Dr. James Levine, author of, ‘Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It’, a number of molecular cascades occur.
within 90 seconds of standing up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol and are mediated by insulin are activated. This happens simply because a person has stood up and is carrying his/her body weight again.
These cellular mechanisms he notes are also responsible for pushing fuel into a person’s cells and, if done regularly, will radically decrease the risk of diabetes and obesity. But if a person is sitting down, this becomes an impossible function.
Effects of prolonged sitting
As a doctor who has dedicated a good part of his career investigating the health effects of sitting, Levine discloses that at the molecular level, a person’s body was designed to be active and be on the move all day long.
When one stops moving for extended periods of time, he explains that it is like telling the body that it is time to shut down and prepare for death. Below is a significant account of what happens in various areas of the body when it is inactive for a long time:
According to Dr. Joseph Turyabahika, consultant and surgeon at Kampala Medical Chambers Hospital, when a person sits for long hours, blood normally pools in the legs due to poor circulation.
He says this can lead to swelling in the ankles, varicose veins, and blood clots known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
With blood clots, he notes, “As soon as a person stands up, these clots will start moving and may land in the lungs which can block off the air passage or end up blocking the heart vessels which can also lead to heart attack and thus resulting into death.”
On the other hand, he says that inactivity due to prolonged sitting can also cause weak bones which may result into osteoporosis; a condition he explains can lead to weak bones that can easily fracture.
He explains that this is why as doctors they urge people to engage in body activities and exercises such as walking, and running because these stimulate hip and lower-body bones to grow thicker, denser and stronger.
In addition to poor blood circulation, Dr. Turyabahika says that whenever you sit down for long hours, your brain function slows down. He attributes this to a person’s brain getting less oxygenated blood which is needed to trigger the release of brain and mood-enhancing chemicals.
In his investigation, Dr. Levine discovered that when a person sits, blood flows slower and muscles burn less fat, which makes it easier for fatty acids to clog the heart and blood vessels. He linked this to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and cardiovascular diseases.
In his other discovery, he disclosed that the body’s ability to respond to insulin is also affected by just one day of excess sitting, which leads the pancreas to produce increased amounts of insulin, and in turn this leads to diabetes.
He says, “The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy. But cells in idle muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin, so the pancreas produces more and more, which can lead to diabetes and other diseases.”
In response to digestion, Dr. Turyabahika reveals sitting down after eating causes a person’s abdominal contents to compress, thus slowing down digestion. He says that poor and sluggish digestion, in turn, can lead to cramping, bloating, heartburn, and constipation.
Apart from slow digestion, he also discloses that prolonged sitting can ultimately lead to weak abdominals. According to Dr. Levine, when a person stands, moves or even sit up straight, it is the abdominal muscles that keep him/her upright. But when he/she slumps in a chair, they go unused thus making them weak.
This includes strained neck and shoulders and also low back pain. According to Dr. Levine, people who work on computers normally sit while craning their head and neck forward. This he says can lead to strains to the cervical vertebrae along with permanent imbalances, which can lead to neck strain, sore shoulders and back.
Besides that, he adds that compared to standing, sitting puts more pressure on the spine and the toll on one’s back health is made worse if one is sitting hunched in front of a computer. He discloses that this is why an estimated 40% of people with back pain have spent long hours at their computer each day.
He explains that the disks in one’s back are meant to expand and contract as one moves, which allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. However, when a person sits, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time. So, sitting excessively can also increase a person’s risk of herniated disks.
Another outcome for prolonged sitting is getting tight hips. As disclosed by Dr. Turyabahika, when a person sits down, his/her hips are rarely extended because of the limited range in motion which makes them become tight.
In addition, Dr. Levine says that sitting also does nothing for the glutes, which may become weakened, affecting a person’s stability and the power of his/her stride when walking and jumping.
How to get off the chair
If you are one of those people who are attached on the job where you spend most of the day sitting down, making long journeys in a vechicle or enjoys sitting infront of a TV, here are some of the ways according to Dr. Levine that can help you to stay active and move about:
To prevent the negative consequences of prolonged sitting to one’s health, Dr. Levine says a person should consider taking a break from his/her desk.
This can be as simple as standing up for a phone call, walking down the hall to the copier or just heading out of the office, circle the building, and come back refreshed.
He urges a person to try to space this activity throughout the day, so he/she does not sit for more than an hour without a break. As for conferences, he recommends walking meetings with co- workers.
He also advises a person to consider a standing desk arrangement. He says that this may appear different and might look weird at first, but the act of standing can burn many more calories and keep a person’s muscles engaged and alive.
Besides this, he adds that while watching TV, a person needs to stand up and stretch a bit especially during commercials.
And if there are kids around, he/she can go ahead and play with them. “Kids know how to move and you can hardly stop them. So play ball with them, or crawl around on the floor. Be more kid like and you will move more,” he says.
In conclusion, Brayer says that if we are to sit often, then we should try to do it correctly. He reveals that to sit correctly is for a person to sit up straight – however not by leaning forward, the shoulders should be relaxed, arms close to sides, elbows bent 90°, and feet flat on floor.