Five or more hours of sedentary sitting is the health equivalent of smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes, health experts have said.
But sitting down is something we practice involuntarily while reading, writing, and typing on a computer or during repetitive work.
The question, though, remains how bad could it be on our general health?
According to Dr Joseph Kamugisha, an oncologist at Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, some people suffer repetitive physical body injuries as a result of repetitive stress activity.
“These repetitive stress injuries may include back and shoulder pain from wearing a backpack over only one shoulder, a strained neck from talking too long on the phone while leaning to one side, and carpal tunnel syndrome from typing too long with our wrists over-extended,” Dr Kamugisha says.
What is worse is that the rest of us would probably sit with reduced work after eating hoping there is no risk involved.
“It’s not good to sit back after consuming a heavy meal,” says Anold Mugwaneza, a public health attendant at Lago Pharm Clinic in Rubavu.
According to Mugwaneza, taking regular walks after eating food is healthier because it promotes faster digestion of the ingested food.
Mayo Clinic says prolonged periods of being inactive after eating by sitting or standing is likely to cause constipation. This in turn causes pressure on veins in the anal canal that result into a lot of pain.
It is for the same reason that Dr Kamugisha warns of chronic constipation, saying it is the single greatest cause of having an unclean and unhealthy colorectal region because over time, constipation causes your bowel walls to face excessive pressure.
“The pressure increases as you strain to expel feces from your colon walls and excessive pressure on your colon walls can cause little pouches to form. Small bits of waste material can get lodged in the pouches which is a potentially serious health challenge,” Dr Kamugisha says.
He adds that each time you eat a substantial meal, you stimulate stretch receptors in your stomach that are responsible for triggering normal and mass peristaltic waves throughout your small and large intestines. These natural contractile waves promote regular movement of waste material through your colon and rectum.
As soon as you sit down, electrical activity in the leg muscles shuts off, calorie burning drops to 1 per minute, enzymes that help break down fat drop 90 per cent, and good cholesterol drops by 20 per cent.
The research says people with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as those with standing jobs. Arteriosclerosis and cancer which are both linked to smoking are now also linked to sitting too much.
A similar study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that adults who sat for more than 11 hours a day had a 40 per cent increased risk of dying within three years– from any cause– compared with those who sat for less than four hours a day.
In addition, the chances of dying were 15 percent higher for those who sat 8-11 hours a day, compared to those who sat less than four hours a day.
The researchers found that sitting was associated with a higher death risk after controlling for factors including age, gender, smoking status, physical activity, education, body mass index, as well as living in an urban or city environment.
The result of the study was startling. If a person stayed sitting down after a meal, their blood sugar peaked like a mountain for around two hours.
Living a healthy life style
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a lot easier to cut back on sitting than it is to cut back on smoking or drinking.
The World Health Organisation says physical inactivity is the main cause for 21-25 per cent of colon and breast cancer, 27 per cent of cases of diabetes, and up to 30 per cent of cases of ischemic heart disease.
WHO says adults should engage in moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes each week.
Dr Kamugisha advises that the best way to avoid repetitive stress injury is to stay physically comfortable while doing activities that require the same position or motions for long stretches of time.
For this reason, designing an optimal work environment, taking regular breaks to stretch and rest, and making sure that we don’t maintain an asymmetrical position while doing repetitive work are all effective means to avoiding repetitive stress injury.