While much of the U.S. is still under some form of either stay-at-home orders or physical distancing measures, the result is that we’re moving around a lot less. Of course, the point of less human movement in public spaces is to help flatten the coronavirus pandemic curve. But being quarantined inside our homes may also be causing us to develop or continue poor sedentary behaviors that can spell disaster for our overall health — including our urologic organs.
Many people know that sedentary habits can lead to obesity, which can severely impact heart and spine health, for example. But you may be surprised to learn about the ways that too much sitting can also hurt your urologic organs.
Some clinical research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing renal (kidney) and bladder cancers — by possibly more than 70% in some cases. One 2017 study concluded that the risk exposure of developing these types of cancer due to physical inactivity was similar among both obese and non-obese subjects involved in the study. When sedentary behavior was the only factor studied, it was revealed to the researchers that it isn’t only overweight people who are at increased risk of developing these types of cancer. If maintaining some level of consistent physical activity throughout a lifetime isn’t attempted, then the risk of developing some types of cancer can increase because of it.
In addition to the potentially increased risk of developing kidney or bladder cancer due to inactivity, sitting too much may harm urinary tract health. A 2018 study suggested that people who were inactive and spent five or more hours sitting each day without a break were more likely to develop unhealthy urinary symptoms. The symptoms experienced by the study subjects included the inability to empty the bladder upon urination fully, changes in urinary urgency or frequency, urinary stream weakness and an increased need to urinate in the middle of the night, which disrupted sleep.
In men, prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity can also irritate the scrotum and prostate gland. One condition, called prostatitis — inflammation of the prostate — can be brought on by a variety of factors (including obesity) but can also be made worse by a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting too much puts a considerable amount of pressure on a man’s reproductive organs, which can, in turn, irritate. It’s a vicious cycle, but it doesn’t have to be. Recently, I’ve seen a significant increase in the number of patients coming to my office as well as the emergency room with prostatitis directly attributed to prolonged sitting.
Now, it’s important to distinguish between being sedentary due to being cooped up inside with not much to do and having to sit behind a computer for hours and hours for work or school. While both situations are due to the “safer at home” guidelines, and both lead to health problems, the second situation is may be less apparent. Collectively, perhaps we aren’t aware of the health consequences of prolonged sitting, and instead may be thinking we’re simply doing what needs to be done by sitting for hours behind the computer. I want to help make the public aware that even when they are doing online remote work or remote learning, they should spend about 50% of their time doing so in a standing position. To help achieve this goal, consider investing in a stand-up desk module, or other means to that enables you to work comfortably and ergonomically from a standing position. If you need to be on the phone, take the call while walking around the room, and stand during work or studying breaks.
The simple solution to a sedentary lifestyle is to move more and more often. I know this may seem difficult to accomplish right now, given our current circumstances. However, you don’t have to run marathons to move the physical fitness needle from sedentary to non-sedentary. Just setting an alarm on your phone that alerts you every half hour to get up and move around is enough to help. Of course, if your situation allows you to get outside and go for a walk while maintaining a safe physical distance from others, that’s an even better prescription. If getting out to exercise won’t work, consider checking out some fitness apps or YouTube exercise videos. You might be surprised at how much you can move your body in a seemingly small space and without injuring yourself.
We as humans weren’t designed to sit around all day. And although our current conditions may be dictating how we move in public right now, we must find creative ways to maintain healthy lifestyles, even if it means exercising inside. If that seems too daunting a task right now, opt for small changes to start. Getting up more frequently from a seated position might seem like nothing, but I assure you, your urologic organs and the rest of your body will thank you and be better for it in the long run.
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