You’ve probably heard about studies showing that sitting for extended periods is bad for you.
Research reveals sitting for hours at a time increases the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.1 In fact, it is so bad for your health that some experts are calling sitting “the new smoking.”2
Now, new research shows that sitting with your legs crossed is particularly damaging.3
Dr. Naresh C. Rao is a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. He says sitting cross-legged “is not a nice ergonomic condition.”
Dr. Rao said he sees many patients with chronic knee, hip, and back pain from sitting for long periods with their legs crossed. Clinical researchers say that sitting this way not only causes orthopedic problems, but it can increase your blood pressure, cause nerve pain, and exacerbate spider or varicose veins.4
Sitting with your legs crossed puts your hips in a twisted position. This then puts pressure on your back and neck. The longer you sit with your legs crossed, the more pressure you put on your spine. This increases the odds you’ll develop a painful skeletal issue.5
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Dr. Rao says that sitting cross-legged regularly can cause permanent damage. And it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s left leg over right leg or vice-versa.
He recommends sitting with your knees crossed for no longer than it would take you to drink a cup of coffee…about 5-10 minutes.
3 Health Problems Caused by Sitting Cross-Legged
- Nerve Pain. Crossing your legs at the knees creates pressure on the peroneal nerve. It’s located in the back of the knee. This can cause tingling or pain in the feet after sitting this way for a prolonged period. The numbness is your body warning you to change positions.
Some podiatrists who specialize in nerve pain warn that repeatedly sitting with your legs crossed for long periods can lead to permanent nerve damage.
- Higher Blood Pressure. Several studies have found crossing your legs leads to a temporary increase in blood pressure.6 This does not necessarily cause heart problems. But it could be dangerous for people prone to blood clots, doctors say.7
- Spider and Varicose Veins. The medical community is split over whether leg crossing causes varicose veins. Hooman Madyoon is a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He specializes in venous diseases. Dr. Madyoon says that at the least, sitting cross-legged appears to worsen existing varicose veins. He says the pressure of one leg sitting on top of the other impedes blood flow. This can cause compromised blood vessels to rupture.8
The Best Way to Sit
Good posture, whether sitting or standing, has been shown to prevent back problems and lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It also improves lung function.9
Dr. Rao tells his patients to sit with legs uncrossed with feet flat on the floor. If you want to sit back, use a foot stool to prop up your legs.
He tells every patient who has a desk job to get up at least once every 55 minutes and walk around for 5 minutes. “That makes a huge difference,” Dr. Rao says. “Our bodies are meant to move.”
In Good Health,
Executive Director, INH Health Watch