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The 2021 Occupational Requirements Survey reveals that 28.5 percent of U.S. workers are in a sedentary job (1). On a positive note, this means that there are many employment options for people who can't do a lot of physical labor or spend all day on their feet. Not quite so positively, sitting for long periods can be bad for your health.
If you spend a majority of the day behind a desk, it isn't good for your heart. A 2011 study found that men who spend 23 or more sedentary hours per week have a 64 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who are sedentary 11 hours a week (2). Being sedentary for long periods can also lead to high blood pressure.
Research further indicates that sitting too long also has metabolic consequences (3). It is associated with abnormal glucose metabolism and metabolic syndrome. Abnormal glucose metabolism means that the body doesn't process sugar effectively. This increases your risk of diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that raise your risk of major health problems. This includes cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.
When you don't move around a lot during the day, you also burn fewer calories. This makes it harder to keep your weight down, especially if you don't closely watch your diet. Before you know it, the number on the scale starts to climb. So too does your pant size.
Sitting for long periods can also increase your risk of varicose veins. These enlarged, sometimes bulging veins can cause pain and discomfort. One study indicates that varicose veins are also associated with an increased risk of deep venous thrombosis (4). This is when a blood clot forms in a deep inner vein, usually in the leg.
If you sit cross-legged, there are additional health consequences (5). One is that it can increase blood pressure, at least temporarily. This is important if you already struggle with blood pressure issues. Sitting with your legs crossed is also not good for your posture. When you have poor posture, you will likely notice more pain and stiffness in your muscles and joints. Poor posture can even impact your ability to breathe properly, while also affecting your mood.
How many hours of sitting is healthy? JustStand.org—which uses research to encourage people to sit less and stand more—indicates that sitting for four or fewer hours per day is relatively low-risk (6). If you sit for 4-8 per day, your risk of developing health issues increases. Sitting between 8 and 11 hours daily places you at high risk and, if you sit for even longer periods, you are in a very high risk category. Fortunately, yoga can help.
For starters, yoga helps support a healthy posture. Some poses do this by releasing tense muscles. For instance, the Easy Twist in Lunge pose stretches the psoas and hips. These two muscles can easily tighten after sitting for a long time. Loosen them and it helps keep your spine aligned. Others work by mobilizing the spine. The Bow Pose offers this type of effect.
Additionally, when you sit for long periods, your pelvis often rotates backward. Yoga helps restore a more upright stance. By helping you sit up straight, your weight is better balanced on your "sitting bones." These are the bones in the bottom of your butt.
Yoga also helps improve blood circulation. If you aren't physically active during the day, you may notice greater circulation issues. This can cause the blood to pool in your legs and feet. The result is swelling which is sometimes painful to the touch. Poor circulation can also occur if your chair isn't at the right height. If the front edge of the seat is too high, it may restrict circulation going to your lower legs.
One meta-analysis reports that yoga helps reduce chronic low back pain (7). When you sit all day, it's not uncommon to feel it in your lower back. At first, you may notice stiffness only when you get up. Over time, this discomfort can increase. If it goes on for too long, chronic pain develops. This pain inhibits your physical activity, leading to more health consequences, making you even more sedentary, and the cycle continues.
Plus, yoga just makes you feel good. When you spend your days sitting behind a desk, it's easy to let it affect your mindset. Yoga helps counteract this by improving your mood. With each inhale and exhale of your breath, you begin to feel better mentally. Each yoga pose gets you one step closer to happiness and contentment.
Which yoga poses should be included in an effective office yoga workout? If you have enough space in your office to get on the floor, these poses help offset the consequences of sitting all day. They're also excellent additions to a full yoga workout.
This yoga pose helps relieve tight hips. To do it, get into a lunge pose, placing your right leg in front of your left. However, instead of balancing on your right foot, take your right knee to the floor. Your right shin should be lying on the floor, with your right foot angled toward your left hip. Point your left foot back and straighten your left leg while lowering your upper body toward the floor. Your right inner thigh and calf should be directly below your chest. Inhale and exhale as your hip flexors release. Repeat with the left leg.
If you have tightness in your lower back, hips, thighs, or knees, child's pose can help. It also relaxes the spine, shoulders, and neck—all of which can tighten after sitting at a desk all day. The child's pose begins by kneeling on your hands and knees. Your knees should be shoulder-width apart. Exhale as you lower your butt toward your heels. Loosen your neck and allow your forehead to touch the floor. Your arms are at your sides, next to your thighs, with the palms facing up. Let gravity naturally separate each shoulder blade from the other. Take a deep breath or two and feel the tight muscles release.
This pose is good for opening a tight hip. It also reinforces good posture. Begin by sitting with your legs stretched in front of you. Exhale and, while bending your knees, pull your heels toward the pelvis. Let each knee drop to the side and press the sole of each foot together. Keep the pelvis in a neutral position. If your knees don't touch the floor, don't force them. Work to relax your thigh muscle and allow the knee to go as far as it will go. Stay in this position for 1-5 minutes as you continue to inhale and exhale.
You can do the forward bend on the floor, or you can do it standing up. Either way, it will help elongate the muscles along your spine and give you a full body stretch. This pose also helps calm your nervous system, which is helpful if you feel stressed. It consists of standing up straight, then bending forward at the hip. Place your hands on the ground by your feet and breathe in and out as you let your body relax. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible. This helps maximize the stretch.
The mountain pose looks like you're just standing up straight. However, it actually involves standing with your weight evenly distributed on your right and left leg. Your big toes should be together. Next, lift your toes, spread them out, then slowly drop them to the mat one by one. From there, lift the arches of your feet, as well as your ankles. Consciously pull up your thigh muscles. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position and your shoulder blades down and back. Each arm should be straight at your side, rotating outward slightly.
Incorporating yoga poses into your breaks and lunch can help combat the effects of a sedentary job. To make this practice a habit, here are a few tips to consider.
Keep a yoga mat in your office. Having a yoga mat handy makes it easy to do a pose whenever you get the time. Plus, this prop serves as a reminder to get up and stretch your body regularly.
Set a reminder timer. If you tend to get lost in your work, it's easy to spend hours at your desk without getting up to move. Avoid this by setting a reminder. Use a kitchen timer or download an hourly chime app. Have it go off every 60 to 90 minutes, serving as a reminder to get up and move.
Passionate about yoga and what it can do for your body and mind? Learn more about incorporating an effective yoga practice with the ISSA's Yoga Instructor certification. This course teaches yoga philosophy, how to do the various poses, and the importance of your breath. You also learn how to develop a proper yoga sequence for clients of all fitness levels.
Learn the benefits of yoga, techniques and tools for teaching, and fundamental information for jump-starting your career.
Occupational Requirements Survey. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022). Retrieved 26 August 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ors/.
Warren, T. Y., Barry, V., Hooker, S. P., Sui, X., Church, T. S., & Blair, S. N. (2010). Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 42(5), 879–885. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c3aa7e
Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., & Dunstan, D. W. (2010). Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 38(3), 105–113. https://doi.org/10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2
Chang S, Huang Y, Lee M, et al. Association of Varicose Veins With Incident Venous Thromboembolism and Peripheral Artery Disease. JAMA. 2018;319(8):807–817. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0246
Crossed Legs While Sitting: Is it bad for you?. Healthline. (2017). Retrieved 26 August 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/crossed-legs-while-sitting.
Sitting-Time Calculator: How Much Are You Sitting? | JustStand.org. JustStand.org. Retrieved 26 August 2022, from https://www.juststand.org/the-tools/sitting-time-calculator/#:~:text=LOW%20risk%20indicates%20sitting%20less,than%2011%20hours%20per%20day.
Holtzman, S., & Beggs, R. T. (2013). Yoga for chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pain research & management, 18(5), 267–272. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/105919
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