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Is too much sitting bad for your health? 5 tips from an orthopaedic surgeon

Friday, February 09, 2024 9:18 AM

By Susan J. White 

In today’s world, where many of us spend extended periods of time sitting behind a screen and a keyboard, aches and pains and even complaints of chronic strain injuries are becoming more common. Sitting for long periods of time can lead to a host of health issues and has even been deemed “the new smoking” by some health professionals.

In general, less sitting and more movement contribute to better overall health. But many of today’s jobs demand long hours behind a computer or at a desk.

Woman stretching at her desk

Endeavor Health orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Zahab Ahsan, MD, offers a few suggestions to offset the problems of prolonged sitting:

  1. Practice good posture. “Good posture is critical for those who are required to sit at a desk for any length of time,” said Dr. Ahsan, who encourages people to ensure that they have a proper ergonomic setup where they are not reaching too far for a keyboard and have good alignment of their neck, shoulders and spine. Poor posture can set people up for common repetitive strain injuries along with chronic neck and back pain, he added.

  2. Change positions often. Staying in any one position for too long is not a good thing for bodies, which are built to move. Dr. Ahsan is a fan of desks that can be raised or lowered, so people can change their position throughout the day. “People benefit from having options and the ability to move, even a little bit,” he said. Treadmill desks are also a good option for people looking to lessen the amount of time they spend in a desk chair.

  3. Take regular breaks. Sitting for long stretches of time can result in muscles tightening up, particularly the large leg and gluteal muscles, which are obviously important for walking and stabilizing you during activity. “Taking regular breaks to get up and walk around even for a few minutes at a time is important,” said Dr. Ahsan. While it’s easy to get caught up in work, social media, video games or other screen activities, Dr. Ahsan urges people to be mindful of how long they are sedentary.

  4. Try regular weight-bearing exercises. Moving, even gentle activity, offers a world of benefits for physical and mental health and helps improve overall energy levels. When it comes to bone density/ bone health, weight bearing exercise is key. “Getting up from the chair or the couch and establishing a regular weight bearing exercise program, including lifting weights will pay dividends for your future health,” said Dr. Ahsan.

  5. Start slow. Dr. Ahsan cautions that those who want to change from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one should start slowly and even work with a trainer or professional to get a handle on good form when beginning to lift weights or starting other new activities. “People who work out regularly know what good soreness is, but for those just starting out, especially early in the year when people are extra motivated, it’s important not to be too excessive, which can lead to injury and a return to sedentary habits,” said Dr. Ahsan.

Sitting uses less energy than standing or moving. Long periods of inactivity can lead to weight gain and related conditions that can increase risks for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Putting in place some healthy practices can help decrease some of the health risks associated with too much sitting.

The team of experts at Endeavor Health Orthopaedic & Spine Institute offers world-class options close by. We use innovative, minimally invasive techniques for joint replacement, complex spine surgeries, sports medicine and more, so you can get back to the activities you enjoy sooner. Learn more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.