|▲ An illustration of a person suffering from sitting disease. (Source: Hi neca, the official blog of the Korea Institute of Health and Medical Sciences)|
As indoor activities have increased due to COVID-19, more people are leading sedentary lifestyles. In particular, students are spending more time sitting in chairs and listening to online lectures due to a change in teaching methods. James Levine, a doctor at the American medical institution Mayo Clinic, said, "Sitting for three to four hours a day is as bad as smoking 30 cigarettes a day." Also, a study conducted by the American Cancer Society found out that people who sit for more than six hours a day can have a 19% higher death rate than those who sit for less than three hours a day. Including all of the diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls this "sitting disease."
There are two classifications of health problems caused by sitting disease. The first is spinal disease. The posture in which the waist feels the most pressure is the "sitting position." Assuming that the pressure on the disc when standing upright is 100, the pressure rises to 130 when sitting in a chair. Then, spinal imbalance occurs when the spinal arrangement is twisted in cases such as bending over towards the desk, sticking your head out to see the computer screen closely, resting your chin on your hand, or crossing the legs. If left neglected, it can lead to spinal problems such as turtleneck syndrome, neck disc problems, lumbar disc problems, and scoliosis. In the past, spinal diseases were only common among middle-aged and elderly people. But these days, they are also common among office workers who suffer from excessive work and teenagers and young adults who spend a lot of time studying and on the computer.
The second health problem is vascular disease. Sitting in a chair for a long time disturbs blood circulation, which can cause blood-flow disorders, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis. In the body, there is a valve that controls blood in veins heading to the heart from flowing backward. When this valve is destroyed, blood gathers to the legs and expands the veins. Varicose veins are often caused by persistent pressure on blood vessels when sitting or standing in a single position for a long time. In severe cases, blood clots occur in veins of the legs that can clog the blood vessels, which is called deep vein thrombosis. If blood clots occur, it is difficult for blood to circulate, and if this situation persists, it can develop into serious secondary cardiovascular diseases such as acute myocardial infarction and stroke.
Then how can people prevent health problems caused by sedentary habits? The way to prevent sitting disease is very simple. Experts say that if someone is required to sit down for extended periods of time, they just have to stand up often. The first step in prevention is to get up from the seat and relax any stiffness in the body by doing light stretching and exercise. Even after sitting down for 50 minutes, standing up and moving around for just a minute can help prevent various health problems. It is important to move the whole body, such as the neck, shoulders, arms, and legs to facilitate blood circulation and to loosen stiff muscles and ligaments. Taking a walk for 10 to 20 minutes after lunch is also helpful. When returning home, it is also a good idea to get off one or two bus stops early or to use stairs rather than elevators or escalators to increase daily activities.
If required to sit in a chair for a long time due to study or work, it is best to straighten the back and keep the pelvis close to the back of a chair to maintain a posture that minimizes disc burden. Sitting in a correct posture is as important as standing up often. Even when looking at a cell phone, it is better to hold it at eye level to view the phone with a straight neck. Sitting disease most often occurs in people who spend a lot of time sitting down, but it can be fully prevented if people increase their physical activity wisely. Students studying at desks in the exam season could benefit from building a habit of moving the body little by little and stay healthy.
By Park Jung-hyun,cub-reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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