man in airportInternational Insult? In polite Turkish society, it would be an insult to sit with your legs crossed. Here in the west it’s almost the opposite, especially for women wearing short skirts. But unhealthy? Does sitting with your legs crossed put you at greater risk of developing varicose veins, back aches or a host of other health problems? Do you encounter sitting pain?

The simple act of sitting for hours can strain your system, cause various discomforts and over time may lead to other health complications. Sitting has become an epidemic in our sedentary society with computer work, long hours in the office, commuting and frequent flying. Elimination, digestion and circulation are all affected by sitting. As a Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga teacher, I often teach about how important it is to work small stretches in throughout your day.  You can read more about how to help yourself here.

Could crossing your legs lead to sitting pain?

Vision Magazine interviewed, Patricia Bragg, N.D. Phd of the Bragg Health food dynasty and she remarked that the habit is very dangerous because “…There’s a major popliteal artery in the back of the knee that feeds your legs and feet. Your heart, then, has a hard time getting the blood down there, and it causes a host of problems…a large percentage of people who have heart attacks while sitting down, had their legs crossed at the time. So, uncross those legs.”

However, according to Duke University School of Medicine vein doctor, Eric Mowatt-Larssen, MD, it’s not likely that you’ll develop varicose veins. “This idea has never been verified scientifically,” he said.

Increased pressure in the veins does play a role in varicose veins, but how you sit, cross legged or not, won’t cause vein damage. Instead, the problem starts inside the veins, with the tiny valves that help circulate your blood. Standing long, family history, aging, and pregnancy are also all factors.

If you think about it, we come from a long line of tree climbers, squatters and runners. Our bodies evolved to move – lean, reach, twist, jump, bend. Now we demand them to stay still and that stillness is hurting us.

No matter if you are standing or sitting long it seems that the best practice is to mix it up often and move to help the veins stay healthy and clear. You might try compression socks if you have to stand or sit long. They’ve been shown to help those with lower blood pressure avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis while flying.

It’s no myth that diet, drinking plenty of water and getting regular exercise, brisk walks to hardy workouts depending on what is appropriate for your age and history, will help help keep you healthy. So, go ahead and cross your legs. Then cross them the other way and keep moving.

Elaine J. Masters

Travel writer, co-host San Diego Travel Massive.

Travel ease books and audio at: www.Drivetimeyoga.com

Related studies include:

  1. Crossing legs: http://www.dukehealth.org/health_library/health_articles/myth-or-fact-crossing-your-legs-causes-varicose-veins
  2. The effect of crossing legs on blood pressure. Adiyaman, A., Tosun, N., Elving, L.D., et al. Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Blood Press Monitor, 2007
  3. Why leg crossing? The influence of common postures on abdominal muscle activity. Snijders, C.J., Slagter, A.H., van Strik, R., et al. Department of Biomedical Physics and Technology, Faculty of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, Erasmus University, Rotterdam,
  4. The effect of crossing legs on blood pressure. Adiyaman, A., Tosun, N., Elving, L.D., et al. Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
  5. Functional aspects of cross-legged sitting with special attention to piriformis muscles and sacroiliac joints. Snijders CJ, Hermans PF, Kleinrensink GJ. Department of Biomedical Physics and Technology, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
  6. The effect of crossing legs on blood pressure: a randomized single-blind cross-over study. Peters, G.L., Binder, S.K., Campbell, N.R. Divisions of General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Nephrology, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.