The ups and downs of prolonged sitting

How much do you sit? Six hours a day? Longer? If you work in an office, chances are the first thing you do when you arrive is sit down and turn on your computer. Later, when you get home, you may also sit down and turn on the TV. Sitting is comfortable, but it can also harm our health — significantly. However, there are ways to prevent and even reverse the potential damage.

Recent research has shed new light on the dangers of sitting. Some studies suggest that prolonged sitting every day significantly increases the risk of premature death — even noting that moderate exercise may not reduce this risk. Perhaps that’s because excess sitting often comes in a package with other health-robbing influences, such as prolonged stress, pro-inflammatory foods and dehydration.

Offices don’t help. Reduced natural light and increased artificial light affects serotonin and melatonin levels and, in turn, can challenge the immune, endocrine and circulatory systems. Poor circulation can lead to numerous chronic inflammatory issues including life-threatening blood clots, particularly in the legs. This is a big problem when flying long distances; pressurized airplanes exacerbate the problem.

Proper Sitting

So what does this mean? Should we give up sitting? Of course not, we simply have to be mindful sitters. Meditation practitioners sit for hours, moving intermittently, without endangering their health. So it’s not just sitting, but rather how we sit.

Offices are breeding grounds for chronic stress, which increases adrenal hormones and degrades the immune system. Also, because the heart is working slower, inflammatory stress hormones are not being circulated and metabolized, another potential danger. Over time, this process can trigger a whole cascade of chronic metabolic and circulatory problems: insulin resistance, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

However, if we change the venue from an office to a meadow with fresh air, sunlight and the sounds of nature, then the story changes. We could sit for 11 hours, taking frequent, short exercise breaks. A seated, meditative state can lower blood pressure and enhance our sense of well-being. By simply changing the context, sitting can become a vehicle for healing and growth.

Take Steps — Literally

There are a number of ways to overcome the problematic effects of sitting:

  • Get up and walk around every half-hour, every 45 minutes, every hour — whatever you can manage. The movement gets blood flowing and clears the head.
  • Lie down and lift your feet above your heart. Even one minute can make a difference.
  • Make sure you are properly hydrated with plenty of pure, filtered water and herbal teas. Hot water with lemon is an excellent drink to hydrate the body and support overall health.
  • Take short walks during lunch. Walk before eating. That way, circulation aids digestion.
  • Maintain a healthy, unprocessed diet with plenty of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats to help control inflammation, increase circulation and support metabolic health.
  • Use supplements that increase circulation. I recommend a Tibetan herbal formula, which incorporates costus root, neem fruit, cardamom fruit and other botanical ingredients to support circulation, immunity and antioxidant activity and help maintain healthy inflammation responses.
  • Medicinal mushrooms such as Cordyceps, reishi, shitake, oyster and others also boost circulation and immunity and help maintain healthy inflammation responses.
  • Specialized enzymes such as nattokinase and lumbrokinase increase circulation, reduce inflammation and support immunity.

Embrace A Positive Attitude

Good hydration, deep breathing and frequent movement can overcome the effects of too much sitting. However, a good attitude is vital. Meditation can help.

Place a stone or an inspiring message on your desk and look at it from a few seconds to a minute. Exhale into it and inhale from it. Concentrate on the object and your breathing. This practice can generate relaxation in about 30 seconds. When done regularly, it benefits numerous areas of health including cardiovascular, immune, endocrine and cellular well-being.

Yes, prolonged sitting can be dangerous. But it’s more than the act of sitting that’s problematic; it’s the environment, habits and attitudes that often go along with it. Mindful sitting, balanced with healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices, can bring benefits for the mind and body and, in fact, can heal.

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Dr. Isaac Eliaz

By Dr. Isaac Eliaz

Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a renowned integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions. Dr. Eliaz is an expert in using highly strategic, synergistic protocols to address numerous areas of health including metastatic cancer, immunity, digestion, detoxification, diabetes, cardiovascular health and more. His approach integrates modern science with traditional healing wisdom for optimal health and wellness. To download any of Dr. Eliaz's comprehensive wellness guides, click here.