Unhealthy Work Habits: A man sitting at a table hunched over his laptop illustrates an article on How Sitting Saps Your Health.

By: David Housley

Freelancers get to experience the joys of working at home. No more commute, no one telling them what to do or setting their work schedule. What’s not to love?

However, sitting for an extended period of time is proven to cause back and neck pains, as well as some mental health problems. Since it’s easy for freelancers to get caught up in their projects, they often forget to stand up and move around once in a while.

Let’s discuss some potentially adverse health effects that sitting too long in front of a screen can cause, and how you can incorporate a healthy routine to avoid those problems.

Physical Health Problems

Weight Management

Weight gain is one of the most common problems desk workers experience. With little-to-no physical activity, one’s metabolism begins to slow down. A slower metabolism results in fewer calories being burned. Furthermore, weight gain is linked to several chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart problems.

Increased Risk of Heart Disease

Psychology Today notes that less movement and more sitting may increase the risk of developing a chronic disease. If a freelancer is leaving a job that had them moving frequently, the sudden changes in metabolic functions can lower their high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. It’s known as the “good” cholesterol, and it lowers the “bad” cholesterol.

Lower HDL cholesterol means an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.

High Blood Sugar and Diabetes

Inactivity can also lead to high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. The pancreas typically releases insulin to aid in glucose absorption, which supplies the body with energy. When someone starts to exercise less or gains weight, their body may not properly use insulin. This results in large amounts of insulin in the bloodstream. If high blood sugar is left untreated, it can cause Type 2 diabetes.

Muscles Pains

Back pain, neck pain, and muscle weakness are all associated with prolonged sitting. After a while, the back muscles begin to ache, and poor posture can further harm the spine. This often leads to neck pains as well.

Sitting not only affects back and neck muscles but also harms the muscles in the hips and legs. The leg muscles are vital as they support the entire body. Too much sitting can weaken them, increasing the risk of injury.

Mental Health Problems

Depression and Anxiety

Working a desk job not only compromises one’s physical health, but it also increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety symptoms occurring or worsening. One study found that middle-aged women who sat for 7 hours or more per day had a much higher chance of developing depression compared to women who sat for 4 hours or less each day and exercised regularly. Increased screen time is linked to worsening anxiety symptoms as well.

Screen Time May Cause Insomnia

The central nervous system is easy to overstimulate. When someone spends excessive amounts of time in front of a computer screen they might disturb their sleep cycle. Late night or too much screen time causes the nervous system to go on the fritz and keeps one up at night.

Insomnia can develop from this overstimulation, and it’s no secret that a lack of sleep combined with anxiety and depression can hinder one’s focus.

Tips to Avoid These Problems

The only guaranteed way to lessen and even cure the aforementioned health problems is to spend less time sitting in front of a computer. However, for many people, such as freelancers, this is not plausible, as doing so is how a freelancer supports themselves and their families.

Luckily there are a few simple, easy-to-do stretches and activities one can perform to lessen the aches and pains. By making small adjustments to one’s lifestyle, weight gain and mental health problems might be avoided as well.

To alleviate some of the aches and pains caused by long periods of sitting, set a timer every half-hour or so and move around a bit. Taking a few minutes to walk around and stretch goes a long way.

Since most freelancer’s work from home, it’s much easier to pause and stretch those tense, stiff muscles. Whenever it’s time for a lunch break, add a brisk 10-15 walk before or after to get the blood pumping through the legs. Taking a daily stroll will also help control weight as well as relieve some stress and anxiety!

Reducing the amount of time spent in front of a screen is a bit trickier, but doable. Once the work day is over, grab a book and wind down. Research shows that reading a book before bed reduces stress by 68%, and encourages sleep by inducing muscle relaxation.

David Housley is a freelance health writer and the founder of getusedtofit.com. He specializes in writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthcare.