Beware the Chair: How Sitting Affects Blood Pressure
You probably know by now that getting plenty exercise is good for your blood pressure. But did you know that even if you get enough exercise, you could still be raising your blood pressure just by sitting too much the rest of the time?
Can sitting too much raise blood pressure?
It seems a bit unbelievable that something as simple and everyday as sitting affects blood pressure. But it’s true. Researchers first started to cotton on to the unhealthy effects of being seated a lot after a 1950 study of London transport workers.
The study compared the health of bus drivers and bus conductors, and found that bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks than bus conductors! Obviously, both were working in the same environment… but bus drivers sit and conductors stand, and that turned out to be the crucial difference.
Why does sitting raise blood pressure?
It’s not just that sitting down uses up less energy than standing or moving around. There’s something about sitting itself that has negative effects on our health.
Sitting for much of the day has been linked to higher blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and stroke and diabetes (amongst other things), and even risk of earlier-than-otherwise death!
How sitting affects blood pressure
There’s an excellent article here that goes into more detail on the ins and outs of how sitting affects blood pressure as well as other aspects of your health: The health risks of prolonged sitting
Basically, sitting can raise blood pressure because being seated for long spells can slow the metabolism. It can also affect our ability to regulate our blood pressure and our blood sugar and it can affect the way we process fat. All these things have an impact on our blood pressure, directly or indirectly.
Oh, and sitting down a lot also can increase your risk of developing diabetes, dementia, obesity and cancer – eek!
Beware the chair!
The bad health effects of sitting down are related to both the overall amount of sitting we do, and also prolonged periods of sitting in particular. This means that there are two ways to tackle this.
Firstly, try to be sitting down less overall.
Secondly, when you do need to be sitting down, make sure to get up eat least every half an hour and stand and move around a wee bit. Studies have shown that even just taking a brief break from sitting every half an hour can help, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Let’s look at sitting less overall first.
Don’t sit down so much…
Just standing is far better for you than sitting and uses more muscles. So get up and stand or walk around at every opportunity, e.g., when on the phone or during a commercial break on TV. Get up for frequent tea/coffee breaks.
If you work at a desk, get or make a higher one that you can stand at. Some companies are getting wise to this and providing standing desks for their employees. If you can’t get one, you could always put a box on your desk as a temporary solution. Just as with a normal desk, make sure it’s a good height for you, so that if you’re using a keyboard, you can keep your elbows at roughly a right angle and type without strain.
“Beware the chair,” as some now say…
Fidget while sitting….!
A major study of almost 13,000 women in the UK has found that fidgeting while you’re sitting can reduce the mortality risk of sitting for long periods in a day. Specifically, “fidgeting may reduce the risk of all-cause mortality associated with excessive sitting time.”
So forget about sitting still. Fidget away to your heart’s content. But take note: while this offsets some of the negative effects of sitting, it doesn’t completely eliminate them. Fidgeting is like micro-mini-exercise, which is good but is not enough. It’s really important to try to sit less, and to get plenty of proper exercise when you’re not sitting…
Get plenty exercise when you’re not sitting
Many of us can’t avoid sitting down a lot, especially if we work at a desk or travel a lot. So, if you really can’t avoid it, then do your best to get in a good bout of moderate exercise in at some point or points in the day.
Some studies suggest you need to do at least an hour of moderate exercise a day to counteract the negative effects of sitting for most of the day. It doesn’t have to be an hour all at once – it could be in three twenty-minute stints.
For example, one Australian study found that going for a short walk for half an hour in the morning, as well as having short breaks from sitting throughout the day, could improve blood pressure a little.
Swimming is a particularly good way of alleviating some of the negative effects of sitting. Since the water supports your body, it really allows you to relax and stretch use different muscles. Even if you’re not a serious swimmer, just messing about in the water is good for you. More details on that here: 1 activity you really need if you spend most of your day sitting (myergonomicchair.com)
Get plenty exercise anyway, even if it’s quite gentle
Even if you aren’t sitting a lot, then getting plenty exercise is good for your blood pressure. It’s long been known that aerobic or cardio exercise is excellent for lowering high blood pressure. This refers to any activity that gets your heart and lungs working harder, such as jogging, dancing, even digging the garden, as this strengthens your heart and improves the efficiency of your circulatory system.
Strength or resistance training (e.g, involving weights or exercise equipment, as well as pilates and some forms of yoga) can also be helpful. You can read more in our article here about how to lower blood pressure through exercise.
However, almost anything that gets you moving is good. Just being active, even in a low-level way will improve your health and blood pressure. Some studies suggest that if if you’re generally fairly active, then the negative effects of sitting aren’t quite so bad.
So do what you can. Set your body in motion at every opportunity. Even if it’s difficult at first, you’ll become more limber and mobile the more you do it. Enjoy the feeling of becoming stronger and fitter. Enjoy having a body!
More ways to lower your blood pressure naturally
What if sitting less and doing more exercise isn’t enough to lower your blood pressure? Or it’s lowering it to some extent, but not enough? If that’s the case, then you probably need to look at your diet and/or your stress levels too.
Don’t stop exercising, because it is undeniably good for your blood pressure, not to mention your general health and mental well-being. But do think about what you’re eating and drinking. And if you’re prone to stress, then consider taking measures to reduce that. Meditation, yoga, and simple slow breathing exercises can be excellent for this.
This might seem a lot to take on. After all, there are a wide variety of foods and drinks out there so how do you know what’s best for your blood pressure? And are you seriously going to be able to reduce your stress levels with some breathing exercises? And how will you make the time for all this?
To make it easier, we’ve written a guide to lowering your blood pressure through diet, exercise and stress reduction: Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally – The Complete 9 Step Guide
As the title (imaginatively!) suggests, the guide takes a holistic approach to lowering blood pressure. It covers what you’re eating and drinking, useful supplements you might want to take, different kinds of exercise you can do, and various approaches to relaxation and stress reduction.
To keep it simple, the guide is laid out in nine easy-to-follow steps. You just follow the advice for each step at your own pace. Take it a week at a time or a month at a time – whatever suits you. And you’ll be on your way to lower blood pressure and better health in general.
I should also mention that not only is the guide easy to follow but it’s also enjoyable to follow. Lowering your blood pressure doesn’t have to be a life of denial. As such, the guide includes lots of tasty food and drink suggestions, and useful tips and insights on lifestyle changes. Little things that – put together – can make a big difference. And you can still eat chocolate and drink wine (or beer or fine whisky).
Just click on the picture above for more information and/or to order it.
And all the best with lowering your blood pressure!
Post by Alison.
How sitting affects blood pressure: some references