Illustration by Assel Mukanova

To sit or not to sit? Discussing the disadvantages of prolonged sitting

Remaining seated for a long time has adverse effects on the body, but there are still some ways to improve your posture in the long run.

Nov 21, 2022

Sitting is often considered the opposite of standing. When we stand and walk about, our muscles work constantly, whether to make our limbs move or to oppose the Earth's gravitational pull so we don’t get crushed to the ground. We use sitting as a break from standing upright; hence, it has become a way for us to release some of the pressure buildups we may have in our muscles from all the movement and tension.
However, owing to the contemporary hustle culture, the above statement may seem somewhat ironic since we usually prefer a change from sitting for long periods of time. Sitting for too long has many risks, which is concerning considering most daily tasks are completed while sitting. Quite a few body parts, like the brain and chest cavity, are affected by long periods of sitting, but the most prominently damaged are the spine and lower back.
The spine is curved since birth, with an initial C shape that slowly changes into an S shape with time and growth. Other reasons may explain curves in the spine, like pregnancy or dextrocardia — a condition where the heart is on the right side of the body. Prolonged sitting, especially with bad postures from bending your back when slouching on a chair or by turning your neck when looking at a screen, leads to your body opposing the normal positioning of the spine, and hence you feel pain as your spine changes shape. The best way to deal with this is to correct your posture by lifting your head until your ears are just above your shoulders, remembering to rectify the slouch pose, and lifting up the phone a little.
Standing has been shown to be less stressful on the spine in an [experiment] (, where participants were divided into groups, with some being told to sit or stand for the same amount of time. Reports about pressure felt by computer simulation and changes in angles of the pelvis showed sitting put more pressure on the spine than standing did.
When it comes down to looking at how chairs cause discomfort or musculoskeletal disorders, experiments can help show us which parts of the back are affected by sitting for a long duration of time. A study by Alexander R. Kett and their team showed how regular muscle contractions (through movement) significantly reduced lower back pain in the participants. They used some instruments that measure and cause electrical activity in muscles since our sensory activity (reflex actions and regular activity) is stimulated by electrical signals our body produces using its charged particles — ions. When participants sat for a four and a half hour long period, there was a significant reduction in electrical activity in their muscles. However, it must be noted that this was a small-scale experiment with only 15 participants.
The biological theory the experiment attempted to prove links to the activity of muscle cells and how sitting for long periods leads to less blood flow. Because we depend on body movement for blood circulation, less blood reaches parts of our body when we sit. Blood carries dissolved oxygen, so less oxygen reaches the cells. Less energy is released because a few processes in our cells require oxygen to break down larger energy molecules into ones the body likes using. Hence, there is reduced metabolism, a drop in cell activity like making proteins or sugar, or the breaking up of large molecules. Slow metabolism causes the proteins inside your cells that work together to help you move by flexing your muscles to stiffen in your lower back.
In terms of sitting solutions, there aren't many supported by science. A few postures have been found to be the least harmful. The only thing one can do is move constantly, perhaps every 20 to 30 minutes, to stretch or take a quick walk whenever possible. Also, try to sit comfortably without bending your spine, or try to level your device with your eyes, as a recommended approach. Of course, don't worry so much about movement; it is always recommended that whichever way you position yourself, it is best to do so with some happiness and cheer.
Iman Lalani is a Columnist. Email them at
gazelle logo