Health Effects of Sedentary Behaviour

Health Effects of Sedentary Behaviour

With the lockdown this year we have all be sitting maybe a bit more than we normally would. In this article Nadiayoga looks at what this means for our health and offers tips on how to counteract any negative effects.

Like any other active person, I don’t usually sit for extended periods of time. I am constantly in and out of the house to see a client, or to give yoga and meditation classes.

During the lockdown, however I have found myself occupying the sofa for a long period of time. I was doing admin, social media, etc., which by the way I love to do. Interestingly I started finding myself totally exhausted, even shattered a couple of times. I was thinking “wait a minute, what is going on here?” and then it hit me.

Of course, while I was still giving classes online, I was sitting 10 times longer, maybe even more, watching the screens on my devices. Later on I noticed there was some weight gain, constipation even, and a bit of online social distancing.

Was I surprised? Well, the answer is no. I was too busy adapting to this new temporary way of life that I failed to notice it had already affected me. And even though it is temporary for me, there are so many of you who love your job but are endangered by this way of life.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Scientists first noticed the relationship between prolonged sitting and the negative health effects quite some time ago in a study that compared two similar groups: transit drivers, who sit most of the day, and conductors or guards, who don’t.

Even though their diets and lifestyles were a lot alike, those that sat were about twice as likely to get heart disease as those that stood. Coming closer to present days, the latest scientific studies have shown that sitting for a long duration on a regular basis can reduce life expectancy.

Sedentary behaviour (from the Latin sedere — ‘to sit’) is the term now used to categorise those behaviours for which we use less energy like prolonged sitting when travelling, at work, at home and in leisure time.

High amounts of sedentary behaviour have been associated with increased risks of several chronic conditions. Below are outlined some negative effects:

Slow Metabolism

Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. Sitting for longer than 30 minutes can put your body into a more relaxed, and a less energy-burning state.

Tip: If you don’t have a standing desk try to stand up every 30 minutes to one hour. Bend your knees slightly and try a simple forward fold and slowly and mindfully roll up one vertebra at a time. When you move at regular periods it helps to decrease triglycerides, blood sugar, waistlines and cholesterol as well as cause a small increase in metabolism.

Health Effects of Sedentary Behaviour standing


According to the NHS sitting in one position for long periods of time can sap your energy, even if you’re watching the TV or using the computer. Your body equates the stillness with going to sleep, or in other words, that stillness sends a signal to your brain and the body starts to shut down.

As human beings we can then wonder, how can we be so tired when we have not done anything (here we refer to physical activity). We somehow forget the mental activity we are doing.

Using our brains takes a lot of our energy, and we might not see it in the same way as we do when we are performing physical work or activity, but it is there. Mental fatigue is real, and we have experienced it.

In one study scientists saw that in the average adult human, the brain represents about 2% of the body weight. Remarkably, despite its relatively small size, the brain accounts for about 20 percent of the oxygen and, hence, calories consumed by the body.

Tips: Stretch often. Get up and walk away from your desk or home desk. Frequent breaks will help keep you awake and will give your eyes a rest. Try the Yoga eye exercises in my course (link at the end).

Heart problems

Blood flow slows down, which allows fatty acids to build up in the blood vessels and this can lead to heart disease. One large scale study on the dangers of sitting involved 800,000 people. This study, published in 2011 and run by Loughborough University and the University of Leicester in the UK, showed that people who sit the most, when compared to those who sat the least, had an increase in disease and death, specifically:

  • They had a 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events, like heart attacks and strokes.
  • They had a 90 percent increase in death from cardiovascular events.

Tip: Apart from taking standing breaks every 30 minutes to one hour, try alternate nostril breathing.

Back pain

The seated position puts huge stress on your back muscles, neck, and spine. It could even get worse if you have a bad posture or slouch.

Often people with sedentary lifestyles start to experience a bad back from the early years of their professional life. The reason is when we sit the vertebral disks are getting compressed.

Think about how the disks in between the vertebrae are being squashed. The disk function is to allow the movement of the spine to happen with ease, and they work as shock absorbers.

More than one in three adults say back pain impacts everyday activities, including sleep and no matter how comfortable you get, your back still won’t like a long sitting session.

In the UK, low back pain was identified as the most common cause of disability in young adults imposing a high economic burden on individuals, families, communities, industry, and governments.

More broadly speaking it is estimated that 10% of the world’s population suffers from lower back pain. According to a recent study by the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, one in ten people around the world are afflicted with LBP (lower back pain), making it the world’s leading cause of disability.

Tips: First stand up and move around for a minute or two every half to one hour. And then try sitting cat and cows to increase spine flexibility or if working from home come on all fours and practise cat and cow for 10 rounds. For more ideas check my eBook The Office Yogi’s Guide.

Neck Strain

Around one in ten people suffer from neck strain. I have seen many professionals who come to my classes suffering from neck strain. There is no surprise in that as many people strain to see a computer that is too far away, too low, too high, too small or too dim or other devices like tablets and smart phones at home. All the above compromise good posture.

Have you tried lifting a bowling ball?

Well you don’t have to, even though I did, and I can assure you it is quite heavy. The average human head weighs almost 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) — the equivalent of a bowling ball!

When your neck is bent at a wrong angle going too forwards for instance, your head puts nearly 50 pounds of force on your neck. Moreover, from straining joints and muscles in your neck and shoulders, the pressure affects your breathing and mood.

The negative health effects of sitting too long at work

Tight Hips

Prolonged sitting causes your hip flexor muscles to shorten, which can lead to problems with your hip joints. In addition, this causes less mobility, which, later in life, could cause instability.

Tip: After having another standing break, try to hold your knee into your chest or close to it (if clothes permit). Check also seated pigeon in The Office Yogi’s Guide eBook.


You probably think, oh not Diabetes too! And it isn’t only because you burn fewer calories. It isn’t clear why, but doctors think sitting may change the way your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that helps to burn sugar and carbs for energy.

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis is a clot that could form in your leg, which can be caused due to sitting still for a long time. Even though you might notice swelling and pain, some people have no symptoms and it can be serious if the clot breaks free. That is why it’s a good idea to break up long sitting sessions.

Tip: As we all know we might get carried away working or sitting for a long time, so it is a good idea to set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to get up and shake each leg at a time.


Weight gain can cause many illnesses. When you spend a lot of time sitting your digestion is not as efficient, so you retain the fats and sugars as fat in the body. Moving your muscles helps your body digest the fats and sugars you eat.

In addition, you burn around 30% more calories when you’re standing than when you’re sitting. However, even if you exercise, but also spend a large amount of time sitting, you are still risking health problems.

More than two thirds of the mid-age population in developed countries like the UK, the USA and Australia are now overweight or obese, which increases significant health risks for this generation.

Social anxiety

Even though scientists are still trying to figure out the exact reason, spending long hours staring at screens (especially if you are working from home on your own) can induce varying levels of anxiety.

Your sleep could become disturbed from excessive screen activities, and we know that lack of quality sleep could make us more anxious and irritable. In addition, when you spend too much time alone it can make you withdraw from friends or family which is linked to social anxiety.

I felt it myself during the first weeks of lockdown in the UK, and I am usually quite a sociable and outgoing person.


The sad news is scientists have discovered that the effects of prolonged sitting cannot be magically undone only from regular exercise. However, the simple advice is again — short breaks where you get up and move around.

You can also try doing these simple yoga poses adapted from my course and read The Office Yogi’s Guide eBook, which has exercises and streches that can be done at any time of the day.

Basically keep moving!

nadia 2
Nadia @flexiwellness

The NHS advises adults aged 19-64 to reduce sitting time at work, at home and when travelling. Moreover, the NHS outlines these simple steps:

  • Stand on the train or bus
  • Take the stairs and walk up escalators
  • Set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
  • Place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing
  • Stand or walk around while on the phone
  • Take a walk every time you take a coffee or tea break
  • Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or calling
  • Swap some TV time for more active tasks or hobbies
Nadia @nadiayoga_

Additional tips:

  • Set the timer on your television or mobile device to turn off an hour earlier than usual to remind you to get up and move.
  • Rather than sitting down to read, listen to recorded books while you walk, clean, or work in the garden.
  • Stand up while you read emails or reports or when you have online meetings.
  • Try to get off one stop early and walk to your destination.

About Nadia

Nadia is an international wellness expert based in London offering yoga, meditation and corporate wellness classes. In addition, she hosts international yoga retreats, conducts Reiki treatments and life coaching sessions.

Companies Nadia has worked for in the past include Age UK, C&C Trust, The Children Society, Proximity London, ICM Unlimited, Bill’s. In addition, Nadia has worked with Westminster University and East London University, teaching at the later a well-being program to reduce stress levels in students.

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Health Effects of Sedentary Behaviour

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