Is it bad to sit with your legs crossed at your desk all day?

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By Liz Connor

It's a habit that plenty of us are guilty of, but could your sitting position be causing you health problems?

Admit it. How many hours a day do you sit at your desk with your legs crossed? For some people, sitting in this position just feels more comfortable than planting both feet on the floor, and conquering the habit is easier said than done.

Even if you try to correct yourself, mere minutes later, you look down from your screen to find that one thigh has automatically snaked over the other, reverting you back to your old ways.

At this point, you've probably accepted your fate to sit at your desk with your legs entwined until retirement, but could staying in this position be unwittingly causing you health problems in the long-term?

"There is a lot of conflicting information available on whether sitting with your legs crossed for long periods can cause health problems like varicose veins or not," says Dr Alexandra Oliver, associate clinical director at Bupa UK (bupa.co.uk). "Whilst there has been a suggested link between standing or sitting for long periods and varicose veins there is, as yet, no definite evidence for this."

Oliver says that the link is related to varicose veins occurring where there is an increase in the pressure of the veins in the leg - like when you have one leg resting on the other, restricting the blood flow.

"This can happen if someone sits or stands for a long period of time, because your veins have valves to keep the blood from flowing backwards. Sitting or standing can cause the blood to pool within the veins of the leg, which can lead to an increase in the pressure of the leg veins. In turn, this could lead to varicose veins forming," she says.

That being said, your leg crossing might not be the definitive reason for the appearance of purple, enlarged veins on your legs. Oliver says that there are other known risk factors which can cause them, such as being female, getting older, being overweight, having a family history of varicose veins, and being pregnant. Veins aside, other people blame sitting crossed-legged for taking its toll on their back too, but is it all just a myth? "Back pain can be common for those who sit down all day at work," says Oliver. "This can be linked to people not having the appropriate workspace or work station set up. In order to compensate for the set up, you might adjust your positioning, which can put your back or neck under stress over time."

Crossing your legs is just one of the elements that can put your spine into a vulnerable position, so it's important to think about your posture, the position of your computer screen, the position of your mouse and keyboard, the height of your chair and where your phone is placed.

"Whether you cross your legs or not, If you are sitting for long periods of time then it is recommended to get up and move around for a couple of minutes every 20 to 30 minutes too," says Oliver. "Having shorter, frequent breaks is more beneficial for your back than taking one or two longer breaks. It can help prevent your back, and other parts of your body, from becoming stiff, and there are also numerous stretches you can do at your desk to help avoid or tackle those aches and pains."

So should you be mindful of crossing your legs at your desk? "Yes," says Oliver. "If you're sitting down, try not to cross your legs, as this can restrict your blood flow and circulation. It is also worth us being aware that crossing our legs can be something we may do when our work stations are not set up properly for us. In a bid to compensate for the set up, we cross our legs to naturally try to correct the balance."

If you're worried about the impact that sitting at your desk each day is having on your body, speak to your employer about a health assessment - this can provide tailored, individual guidance on your desk posture.

That being said, it's the sitting for long periods of time that's likely to do more damage than crossing your legs - so get up, get moving and offer to do a regular office tea round instead.

Catherine Devane