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Sitting Can be Hazardous to Your Health

People can put their health at risk by sitting. Hours spent at the controls of construction equipment, before a computer, traveling or parked in front of the TV – situations where one is essentially not moving – can lead to blood clots deep in the body. The condition, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism (PE).

Another Reason to Get Out of Your Chair

Exercise helps, but spending the workday glued to your seat greatly increases your chances of dying at a younger age.

A 14-year study by the American Cancer Society finds that people who exercised, but, sat for more than six hours, were more likely to have died during the study – 40 percent for women, 20 percent for men – than those who sat for fewer than three. Dying was even more likely for those who did not exercise: 94 percent and 48 percent respectively.

Prolonged sitting changes how the body metabolizes sugar and fat and affects resting blood pressure, all factors in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses.

Walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of e-mailing and eating lunch somewhere other than your workstation could be your ticket to longer life.

Poor circulation causes DVT and it usually develops in the legs. PE results when blood clots caused by DVT travel to the lungs.

Heart disease, cancer and being overweight increase the likelihood of DVT, but otherwise healthy people also develop this condition. Any sustained period of immobility, like sitting in virtually the same position for an entire work shift, can cause DVT.

Every year, as many as 600,000 Americans develop DVT and as many as 100,000 die from a PE. For those who survive, complications can affect quality of life.

Deep vein thrombosis risk factors:

  • Prolonged sitting
  • Immobility following injury or surgery
  • Increased estrogen from birth control pills, pregnancy and certain medications
  • Chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer
  • Previous DVT
  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Obesity

DVT symptoms include swelling and pain in the ankle or foot, cramping in the calf, tenderness and redness of skin. However, DVT sometimes develops without any indicators. Awareness of circumstances that can cause DVT and symptoms of PE is essential. Seek help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Pulmonary embolism symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Faster than normal heartbeat
  • Chest pain that worsens with deep breaths or coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Very low blood pressure, lightheadedness, blacking out

To prevent DVT and PE,the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Venous Disease Coalition (VDC)recommend:

Before and after surgery:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining healthy weight
  • Not smoking
  • Moving around as soon as possible following long-term bed rest

When sitting for several hours:

  • Moving legs frequently
  • Getting up and walking around every two to three hours
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • Drinking plenty of water, limiting alcohol and caffeine

It is far easier to prevent DVT and PE than it is to treat them. Regular exercise and healthy eating habits are important. In addition, talking with your health care provider before a hospitalization about blood clots, other complications of surgery and long-term bed rest can further reduce DVT and PE risk.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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