There’s plenty of research out there to tell us that the cumulative effects of sitting, either at a desk all day or because of a sedentary lifestyle, can have a negative impact on our health.
A 2014 study by Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic – Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, went so far as to declare that “sitting is the new smoking.” This extreme and attention-grabbing statement is meant to drive home a point about time spent on our sofa.
Ongoing research has shown that sitting too much is not in fact worse than smoking – but it is a real and serious health concern worthy of our consideration and behavior modification.
What happens to our bodies when we spend too much time sitting? Sitting at a desk job all day can cause eye strain, tight shoulders, lower back pain, tight hips, and repetitive back strain. And it’s not just sitting at work.
When we give in to couch potato temptations, we are in danger of a shortened life expectancy, deformed vertebral disks, a sluggish metabolism, and potential weight gain. Studies have shown that we are also increasing our risk of serious diseases such as:
The answer is to get up, stretch, and move more. The best way to avoid health problems caused by sitting and keep your posture from becoming permanently chair shaped is to incorporate a stretching and strengthening routine into your day.
Because we know that the duration of sitting is part of the problem, the number one way to make immediate improvement is to set an alarm as a reminder to get up and move around. We love the idea of making “movement deposits” as suggested in this Sixty and Me blog.
Some breaks can be done walking (in fresh air is a bonus) and some breaks can be simple stretches standing or even sitting at your desk if necessary. Taking a 10-minute break every hour will go a long way to help you increase movement in your day.
Making sure that you are sitting with your feet flat on the floor with your spine upright in a neutral forward facing position is key. Ideally, try to have a chair that supports your back when you need it, but also allows you to sit upright using your postural muscles to lengthen your spine.
The height of your chair should be so that your knees are at or just below your hips. Your hands should be aligned so your wrists don’t have to flex to type. You should not have to extend your neck to see your computer or overly flex to see your book.
Try to introduce variety in what you sit on by having different chairs for different purposes (i.e., computer vs. reading) and changing positions.
One of my clients recently started complaining of lateral hip pain. She knows that how she sits is important, so she has a good chair, takes long breaks, and changes her position throughout the day.
Interestingly, she googled strategies to decrease her pain and found advice to stretch and roll out her IT band (the band of fascia that connects your tensor fascia lata muscle on the outside of your hip, to your knee).
I knew from my long history with this client that her body already has a long connection between these two points because of natural alignment of her leg bones, and I was concerned that bringing stretching into an area that was already quite long may not be the right solution.
In the end, we discovered that she was sitting in her different chairs with her feet dangling off the floor. The fix was a simple prop placed under her feet and lowering her chair so that her feet were resting properly.
Now with the weight of her legs supported, they are no longer pulling on that IT band and making it sore. It’s so important to simply pay close attention to good ergonomics.
If you have to sit a lot, prepare your body. Strengthen and balance your muscles to keep the compressive forces at bay and minimize the impact of stillness. Having your own movement practice in place, such as participating in Pilates or Yoga classes regularly, will help keep your body balanced and strong.
I invite you to try this simple, 10-minute routine designed to counteract the effects of too much sitting. The 9 exercises in the above video are perfect for maintaining movement throughout your spine and can be done all at once, or one or two throughout the day. Take this 10-minute break for your mind, your body, and your health.
Whether you’re working from home or just hanging out at home, taking time to move during the day will create positive effects over a lifetime. These healthy habits will help you continue to be active in ways that you love by keeping your body strong and mobile.
When you’re ready for more, MOVE Wellness offers over 45 weekly interactive livestream classes with expert instructors, many perfect for beginners. But above all, just keep moving!
How often do you catch yourself sitting for more than an hour at a time? Do you get up and move a bit or do some stretches throughout the day? Which types of exercises do you find easiest to do in your daily sit time? Please share with the community!