It’s no secret that sitting is detrimental to our health. As it turns out – our bodies are made to stand. When standing, the natural curvature of the spine helps distribute weight evenly throughout the body.
Sitting – as comfortable as it may be at times – is unnatural for the body. Weight is no longer distributed evenly, causing strain on different parts of the body. After just a short period of time, circulation slows and blood begins to pool in the legs. Spend even longer and eventually, the posture begins to break down – resulting in deformed ligaments and increasing the risk for slipped discs.
In recent years, study after study has shown that sitting for long periods of time can have numerous adverse effects on our bodies. Among the problems that prolonged sitting can cause are an increase in blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, poor circulation, pinched nerves, numbness, muscle degeneration, heart disease, back problems, cognitive difficulties and more.
For those of us with nerve pain, many of these problems can spell trouble for our nerves. As neuropathy has already damaged our nerves and/or their protective coating (myelin sheath) – they are more susceptible to further damage. Sitting can have both a direct and indirect impact on these vulnerable nerves.
Let’s take look at five ways a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact the health of your nerves and learn some tips and tricks to help minimize the adverse effects:
Sitting for a long period of time can put pressure on nerves – sometimes resulting in a pinched nerve. Pinched nerves usually result from poor posture or sitting with the legs crossed for extended lengths of time. Symptoms typically include tingling and numbness in the affected area. Sharp pain, burning, and irritation can also be associated with a pinched nerve.
While the peripheral nerves are prone to this problem – it can actually affect any nerve in the body. It often afflicts the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body. In these cases, it usually results in lower black pain. Other areas commonly affected by pinched nerves are the neck, legs, elbows, and wrists.
High Blood Sugar
In a study of over 80,000 participants, researchers recently linked sitting for long periods of time to a 2x increase in the risk of diabetes. According to Emma Wilmot, MD, “When we sit for long periods of time, enzyme changes occur in our muscles that can lead to increased blood sugar levels. The effects of sitting on glucose happen very quickly, which is why regular exercise won’t fully protect you.”
Diabetes is the most common cause of neuropathy among adults. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body’s production of insulin – the chemical that regulates blood sugar – decreases. The excess blood sugar wreaks havoc on your nerves. It is estimated that as many as 70% of all diabetes patients have some form of nerve damage – usually referred to as diabetic neuropathy.
For those with diabetic neuropathy, managing blood sugar levels is the key to stopping and reversing the damage to your nerves. While we typically associate blood sugar management with changes in diet – it is important to be aware of how sitting can affect blood sugar.
High Blood Pressure
Yet another negative outcome linked to sitting is hypertension – or high blood pressure. Imagine your blood vessels are like a bicycle tire tube. You need the right amount of air pressure for the tire to do its job. Too little pressure and it will be difficult to ride. Too much pressure and you may damage the integrity of the tube. So it is with our blood vessels. If the blood pressure gets too high – and remains high for too long – it can damage your arteries.
High blood pressure has been linked to overactive nerves. Overactive nerves have a difficult time performing their normal functions and often trigger false signals that result in pain, tingling, numbness or irritation. Besides posing a threat to your nerves, high blood pressure is also linked to problems like heart disease, heart failure, stroke and more.
The longer you sit, the more your blood circulation slows. As the circulation slows, blood begins to pool in the legs and feet. Poor circulation harms nerves by cutting off the flow of fresh blood – which carries vital oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Deprived of these, the nerve can become weakened and more vulnerable to damage. Over time, reduced blood flow can cause neuropathic symptoms such as numbness, pain or tingling in your arms or legs.
On the flip side, good circulation delivers these important nutrients to both the nerves and other systems throughout the body. Experts say that circulation can be negatively impacted after only ten minutes of sitting – so regular standing or stretching throughout the day can help get the blood flowing again and reduce the negative impact.
Muscle degeneration is the shrinking of muscle mass – usually caused when movement is restricted or there are prolonged periods of little to no physical activity. Severity can range from partial to complete muscle loss.
For many with nerve pain, muscle degeneration is already a serious concern as the pain can cause one to limit their physical activity or use the extremities. Sitting can exacerbate the problem by further promoting muscle degeneration.
Tips for Minimizing the Negative Effects of Sitting
Despite the health hazards associated with sitting – we tend to lead quite sedentary lives. Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours sitting. We might find ourselves stuck at a desk job for 8 hours a day. When we get home at night, we sit for another 3-4 hours or more browsing the Internet, watching tv, reading, etc. Whether we like it or not – the reality is that much of our lives are spent sitting.
So what can we do about it? While you may not be able to (or even want to, for that matter) eliminate sitting from your life – there are things you can do to help minimize some of the negative impacts of sitting. A few things we recommend trying are:
- Stand or stretch every 20-30 minutes at work
- Stand up every time you talk on the phone
- Try to maintain good posture and use lumbar support
- Request a standing desk
- Schedule walking meetings rather than meeting in a conference room. You’ll be surprised at what a little exercise can do to spur more productive meetings!
- Rather than sending an email – get up and walk over to the person you were going to email and speak to them in person
Home & Lifestyle Tips:
- If watching TV is your way of relaxing after a long day of work – try standing and doing a simple exercise during commercial breaks (i.e. jumping jacks, stretching, etc)
- Better yet – try walking on the treadmill while you watch your favorite show!
- During warmer months – try a new outdoor habit to get you off the couch. You could try gardening, walking, bicycling, hiking, etc.
The key to minimizing the effects of sitting is to incorporate these habits into your routine throughout the day – if possible. Evidence indicates that even rigorous exercise at the end of the day won’t reverse the damaging effects of sitting. As already mentioned, the chemical changes and effects of sitting happen so quickly that the best defense it to break up your sitting routine throughout the day.
How has sitting negatively impacted your health and what things have you done to break up your routine? Share your tips with us on our Facebook Page.