Is sitting cross-legged bad for you?

Sitting for extended periods is unhealthy, increasing the risk for dozens of chronic conditions, from cancer and diabetes to cardiovascular disease, research shows. But does crossing your legs while sitting add to the problems? One expert, Naresh C. Rao,a doctor of osteopathic medicine and U.S. Olympic water polo team physician for the 2016 Summer Games, dispels some popular myths and explains how crossed knees affect whole-body wellness.

Myth and Reality

There is a lot of buzz about how sitting cross-legged can lead to varicose veins. But Dr. Rao, who is clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, says he hasn’t read any studies that prove this correlation. “Varicose veins tend to be hereditary and due to age or obesity,” he says. There is an association between prolonged sitting and an increase in blood pressure among people who already suffer from hypertension, he says. “But sitting cross-legged doesn’t lead to developing hypertension.”

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Still, crossing your legs “is not a nice ergonomic position for your pelvis,” Dr. Rao says. The top knee puts pressure on the lower knee, while the pelvis is rotated and strained. The knees are at an unnaturally twisted angle, and you also hunch the lower back, giving it a little bit of torque, he says. The doctor doesn’t believe that regularly alternating which leg is on top will make much of a difference. “I wouldn’t put much credence in that. You might end up with two backaches instead of one,” he says.

Pressure Points

Knee health is related to core strength and proper back and hip function, he says. The most common cause of knee pain, Dr. Rao says, is keeping your knees in a misaligned position for a long period of time. “So I wouldn’t say you’re going to end up with knee pain, but if you already have knee pain, that twisted and bent position will make it worse.”

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