The dangers of sitting all day

Jay Brewer Jay Brewer Former Professional Head of Clinical Wellbeing at Nuffield Health
Being stationary throughout the day could be significantly impacting your health. Professional Head of Clinical Wellbeing, Jay Brewer, explains.

If you have a desk job, or another where you are stationary all day long you might want to take note of some of the sobering statistics about inactivity:

Physical inactivity is now the fourth largest cause of death and disability in the UK. And people with high levels of sedentary time have been found to have a 112% increased risk of diabetes, 147% increased risk of cardiovascular death, and 49% increased risk of all-cause mortality.

Just some of the health issues closely linked to being sedentary include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Back, neck and leg pain
  • Low mood
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Premature ageing
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Blood clots
  • Stroke

    How inactivity affects health

    The human body was designed for movement, not to stay still. Prolonged sitting - staying in one position for a long period of time - adds to the static load on our musculoskeletal system and prevents effective circulation of blood through your body.

    This risk is increased if your desk isn't set up correctly, with your seat putting additional pressure on the backs of your legs, for example. See our film about how to improve your posture when working at work and at home. 

    The decreased circulation can lead to a pins and needles sensation and to the more serious health concern of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is the formation of a blood clot or clots in the legs, which can travel to the lungs, heart or brain, causing pulmonary embolism, heart attacks or strokes. 

    When you sit for long periods of time fluid builds up in the legs due to the effects of gravity and being stationary. This fluid can travel to the neck overnight, leading to sleep apnoea, a chronic sleep disorder that over the long term can seriously impact your health.

    Studies have also found that blood glucose levels peak higher after lunch if you sit, than if you stand, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the long term. In addition, sitting contributes to obesity, shutting off the enzymes that process fat and leading to many long-term health concerns.

    Combatting inactivity

    But you workout, so it doesn't matter, right?...Wrong!

    It’s a common misconception that if you keep fit with an hour or so exercise a day, you’re healthy. But while taking time to exercise every day supports overall wellbeing, the effects of being inactive throughout the day can’t be reversed by exercise, so it's essential you move regularly, around every half hour. This includes simply moving from sitting to standing. 

    The good news is that it doesn't take a major change in your lifestyle to see a big difference in your health. Taking small steps to move regularly throughout the day, no matter what your levels of fitness, can significantly reduce the health risks associated with being sedentary.

    View our film about how moving more can improve your health and use these 20 simple ways to be move active throughout the day.

    Last updated Wednesday 2 September 2020

    First published on Monday 10 October 2016