Sitting is Worse than Smoking and Its Impact on Your Spine

Sitting is Worse than Smoking and Its Impact on Your Spine

Sitting has been known for a long time to be the new “smoking.” It wreaks havoc on your spine, and sitting for extended periods is linked to chronic diseases. Unfortunately, the government measures that are imposed on us these days encourage families to sit for hours on end.

To truly understand why you should avoid long stretches in the seated position, you need to know some of the research behind why sitting is similar to smoking, in terms of your health. 

A Sedentary Lifestyle causes Health Hazards

According to a 2021 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surverys, as many as 70% of people spent six or more hours each day sitting down. Now with stay at home, lockdown and virtual school measures, full families are spending more than 6 hours sitting each day. Children as young as 6 years old are expected to sit at home on computers for the same 8am to 3pm school day, where they would normally be moving around in a classroom, sitting only sporadically for person-to-person learning.
 
A 2015 report in Annals of Internal Medicine found an association between prolonged sitting and a greater mortality, as well as an increased disease incidence including a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes in adults.
 
How Sitting Affects Your Spine, Lungs and Nervous System
 
Spending many hours of your day in the seated position can leave your low back, mid back or neck sore, stiff and in pain. That is because the joints in the spine are designed to move. Too much sitting, especially in unhealthy postures puts stress on the spine. Sitting especially with forward head posture, tends to flatten out the healthy lordotic curve we should see in the neck. Sitting with the shoulders hunched forward causes postural stress on the spine in the mid back, often causing an excessive kyphotic curve in the mid back or thoracic spine. And sitting with slumped forward posture causes postural stress in the lower back and pelvis, causing a loss of the healthy lordotic curve we should see in the low back or lumbar spine.
 
Sitting also affects breathing, or oxygenation, or lung capacity. When we sit in slumped forward postures, especially on laptops or cell phones for prolonged periods we reduce the amount of space in the chest and room for expansion of the lungs. This decrease in pulmonary function or lung capacity with decreased oxygenation, also takes a toll on our health over time. Add face mask use to this, and you can imagine how you are depriving your body of it’s best health.
 
Your spine houses your nervous system. If your spinal posture is compromised, this can cause added tension to the spinal cord affecting the nervous system. The lack of movement in the spinal joints from prolonged sitting also decreases the healthy regular nerve stimulation of the brain, which can have long-term effects on the brain. The brain is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. Lack of use can cause degeneration. The brain depends on neural stimulation from movement and position sense.
 
Sources:

Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, et al. Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651. Accessed January 7, 2017.

Corliss J. Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death. Harvard Health Blog. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/much-sitting-linked-heart-disease-diabetes-premature-death-201501227618. Published January 22, 2015. Accessed January 7, 2017.

Moustafa IM, Youssef A, Ahbouch A, Tamim M, Harrison DE. Is forward head posture relevant to autonomic nervous system function and cervical sensorimotor control? Cross sectional study. Gait and Posture 2020; 77: 29-35.

C.H.T. Yip, T.T.W. Chiu, A.T.K. Poon, The relationship between head posture and severity and disability of patients with neck pain, Man. Ther. 13 (2008) 148–154, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.math.2006.11.002.

Kado DM, Huang MH, Karlamangla AS, Barrett-Connor E, Greendale GA. Hyperkyphotic Posture Predicts Mortality in Older Community-Dwelling Men and Women: A Prospective Study. Jnl of American Geriatrics Society. 52 (10). Sept 23, 2004.

Lorbergs AL, O’Connor GT, Zhou Y, Travison TG, Kiel DP, Cupples LA, Rosen H, Samelson EJ. Severity of Kyphosis and Decline in Lung Function: The Framingham Study. Jnl of Gerontology. A 72(5), May 1 2017; 689-694.

Lautenschlager N, Cox KL, Flicker L, Foster JK, van Bockxmeer FM, Xiao J, Greenop KR, Almeida OP. Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2008 Sep 3;300(9):1027-37.

Beder A, Buyykkocak U, Sabuncuoglu J, Keskil ZA, Keskil S. Preliminary report on surgical mask induced deoxygenation during major surgery. Neurocirugia (Astur). 2008 Apr;19(2):121-6.

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