Study says crossing legs can increase health risks

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SARASOTA, Fla. - According to a study published in the journal Blood Pressure Monitoring, sitting with your legs crossed at the knee can raise your blood pressure. The study finds leg crossing increased systolic blood pressure nearly 7% and diastolic by 2%.

"Always sit like a lady; either have your legs crossed or your ankles crossed, keep your knees together…so yeah, that's exactly how we were raised.” Kimberlie MacDonald walks a lot, but she also sits a lot in her work as a realtor for Coldwell Banker in Lakewood Ranch. "I normally sit with my legs crossed; that's what's most comfortable to me."

But can sitting with your legs crossed hurt your heart?

"Not at all, old wives tale. People say that crossing your legs is also bad for varicose veins, it causes spider veins…I've never seen that." Crossing your legs, says Dr. Russell Samson of Sarasota Vascular Specialists, is only bad if you sit there for a very, very long time; because really what you should be doing is exercising."

There is a time when you should pay attention to how and how long you sit, says Dr. Samson. “If you're flying on an airplane and you're sitting in those cramped seats that they make you sit in these days, and you don't move around, you can get a blood clot in your veins and that can actually kill you."

Here's a tip to help with those extended periods of sitting:

"Go like this [flexing his feet up and down] with their legs, with their feet as much as they can while they're sitting to pump blood out of the veins in their leg, because stagnant blood in the veins of your legs is what causes blood clots."

But according to the study published in Blood Pressure Monitoring, leg crossing not only raises your blood pressure but puts stress on the hip joints.

"I'm not an orthopedic surgeon, but I sit with my legs crossed all the time, and my hip joints are just fine," says Samson.

MacDonald had hip surgery a couple of years ago. "Don't think he told me not to sit crossed legged either; he said, ‘do whatever is comfortable.’ So I do."

She says if more studies find leg crossing is a health hazard, she may change her behavior. "But habits are hard to break."

Standing or sitting for a long time, especially with your legs bent or crossed, may raise your risk for varicose veins. But this is because staying in one position for a long time may force your veins to work harder to pump blood to your heart.