It’s not uncommon these days for many of us to spend large portions of our day sitting down. An office worker sits down at work for several hours a day, and then spends a few more hours sitting down in the evening watching TV or using the computer. Factor in the time spent sitting down in a car while commuting, and suddenly the hours spent sitting are seeming rather high. This type of lifestyle can have major impacts on our health, and the effects may be more far-reaching than you think.

Just How Long Are We Sitting Down Every Day?

A new AXA PPP healthcare poll of 2000 people found that 46% of those polled sat down for 4-6 hours a day at work, with a quarter sitting down for 6-8 hours on the job. When looking at time spent commuting, almost 30% spent up to half an hour sitting down, 27% spent 30-60 minutes, and 17% spent 1-2 hours seated on their way to and from work.

The sedentary lifestyle doesn’t begin and end at work, however. At home people also spend a large portion of their leisure time sitting down, with the AXA poll finding that 50% of people spent 2-3 hours sitting down in their evening leisure time. A further 31% spent 4-6 hours of their leisure time seated.

At a polled maximum, someone could spend 8 hours sitting down at work, 2 hours commuting, and 6 hours of leisure time sitting down. With the recommended 8 hours of sleep each night, this doesn’t leave any time left for physical activity. Of course this is a caricature of a person’s real life, in which hours don’t round so neatly and people do actually get up to move around, but for some people this level of sedentary lifestyle will not be too far from the truth.

What Are the Health Risks?

The first thing you might notice when you’ve been sitting down for a long time is that your back and shoulders get sore. It causes the body to fall into a slouched posture, which puts strain on various muscles in your back.

Furthermore, it can cause your leg and gluteal muscles to waste away and atrophy, as well as shortening the hip flexor muscles. This can lead to problems and pain in the hip joints. Having your legs immobile for long periods of the day can also lead to poor circulation. A related issue is that of deep vein thrombosis. This is a type of blood clot that forms in one of the veins of the leg.

We all know that when you’re on an airplane, you should get up and stretch your legs. But the risk of DVT doesn’t just exist on airplanes. Eddie Chaloner from Radiance Vein Clinic notes that when your legs are not moving for long periods of time, this “causes blood flow in the veins to be slow and slow-flowing blood is more likely to clot”.

Circulatory issues of course are not limited to the veins – the heart is also at risk. A study published in 2010 found that those who spent four hours in front of a TV per day had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to those who watched TV for only 2 hours a day.

What Can You Do to Prevent These Problems?

 With regard to back and shoulder problems, avoid craning your neck to look at computer screens and cellphones. Ensure that your desk is set up ergonomically at work, and consider using a standing desk where possible.

For circulatory issues, DVT can be prevented by avoiding immobility. A 30-60 minute walk can be all it takes to get blood moving and improve circulation. 150 minutes of activity per week can also help to stave off heart attacks and strokes.

Look for opportunities every day to be more active, such as commuting to work by bike, taking a walk at lunchtime, and hold standing meetings at work. Make a habit of standing up and walking around in a meeting room when on the phone (where possible), and set regular timers to remind yourself to get up and stretch your legs at work.