How a Culture of Over-Sitting is Affecting Your Health
The human body was designed to move regularly, however many people these days spend most of their working day sitting at a desk instead of getting up and moving around. Then, when they get home, they often simply slump on the sofa in front of the TV for another night of inactivity.
With a surprising number of people spending up to ten hours of every day in a seated position, it’s unsurprising that more people than ever before are suffering from poor posture and back pain. Although sitting for short periods of time won’t do you any permanent harm, if you regularly sit for extended periods every day, your health can be seriously impacted in both the short and long term, and your life could even be shortened.
What Happens To The Body When Sitting For Long Periods?
While most people don’t think about what happens inside their body when they are sitting down for long periods of time, evidence has shown that an overly sedentary lifestyle results in a host of long term health problems that can be extremely serious:
- Damage to the heart – when we sit, the blood flows more slowly and less fat is burned by the muscles and this means that fatty acids can clog up the heart more easily. Heart disease can therefore be the result of a sedentary lifestyle.
- Diabetes – the ability of the body to respond properly to insulin can be affected by a single day of extended sitting. The pancreas will produce more insulin and the result could be diabetes.
- Cancer – excessive sitting has been shown to possibly increase the chance of developing endometrial, breast and colon cancers although the reason for this remains unclear.
- Poor digestion – if you sit for extended periods following eating, slow digestion together with cramps, heartburn, constipation and bloating is often the result.
- Poor cognitive function – if the body remains sedentary for extended periods, brain function can slow down dramatically and the brain gets less oxygen and blood, both of which are required to trigger mood and brain enhancing chemicals to be released.
- Back problems – sitting increases the pressure on the spin and when adopting poor posture in front of a PC the result is often back pain. Sitting leads to compression of the spinal disks and over time, their flexibility can be reduced resulting in painful herniated disks.
- Strained neck – often when working on a PC you sit with you head and neck held forward. This kind of posture leads to strains in the shoulders and neck.
- Weak abdominal muscles – adopting a standing posture requires the abdominal muscles to be tensed, however they are unused whenever you sit down and weak abdominals can be the result.
- Hip problems – the hips often become tight when sitting for prolonged periods, reducing their range of movement. As we get older, this can lead to falls.
- Varicose veins – poor circulation in the legs caused by prolonged sitting can lead to swollen ankles, DVT and varicose veins.
- Weakened bones – weight bearing activities like running and walking make the bones denser and stronger, however long periods of inactivity can weaken the bones leading to osteoporosis.
- A shorter lifespan – worrying research has shown that the longer you sit each day, the less time you might live. A study has shown that if you can just reduce how long you spend sitting each day to under 3 hours you could enjoy two years of longer life.
Getting Up And Moving
Exercise is a key part of any healthy lifestyle, however a huge number of people engage in no physical activity at all during their week. When this is added to the problems of sitting for extended periods, it’s clear that getting up and moving around more often is essential. Here are some tips to help you include more physical movement into your life:
- Set yourself a goal of around 10,000 steps per day and track your steps using a tracking device like a pedometer or app.
- Forget the elevator and use the stairs instead.
- Park further from the main entrance when going to work, shopping or heading to an appointment.
- Get off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walk the rest of the way.
Introducing More Movement Into Your Work Day
Rather than sitting down all day at work, try these tips to include more standing and movement into your regime.
- Make sure that key items like the printer, telephone and filing cabinet are too far away from the desk for you to reach while sitting. This will force you to get up and move around on a regular basis.
- Switch your chair for an exercise ball. This will engage the core muscles, improving your flexibility, posture and balance. Alternatively, swap to a wooden chair without armrests as this will keep you sitting upright and will encourage you to shift your body frequently.
- Have a timer set for every 60 minutes to remind you to get up and move around for 10 minutes.
- Switch from a regular desk to a standing work station. This will encourage you to adopt a straighter posture and will help you to engage your abdominal muscles throughout the day.
The Key to Smart Sitting
If you have no choice but to spend extended periods of your day in a sitting position – perhaps as a bus or taxi driver, there are still ways that you can reduce the pain that you may experience from poor sitting posture and reduce the risks of prolonged sitting. Here are some helpful, tips to put into practice.
- Stack sitting – this allows your spinal bones to stack properly while allowing the muscles which run alongside them to fully relax. You can achieve this by sitting with your bottom sticking out slightly behind you. This will make your spine lengthen then settle each time you breathe in and out, simulating blood circulation and allowing your body to heal naturally while you are sitting.
- Stretch sitting – one further way to ensure that the spine is elongated is to use the chair’s backrest to gain traction. You will require either a traction cushion or towel to achieve this position which brings up the back so that it is away from the backrest, lengthening the spine and improving posture. The traction given to the spinal discs allows them to properly rehydrate while preventing nerves being trapped between the vertebrae. The lumbar area will also be effectively flattened which often provides instant pain relief from sciatic pain.
Remember that no matter how good your sitting posture is, smart sitting should still only be a last resort if there is no alternative to having to remain sedentary for any length of time. Standing is always the best option and while it may time some time to adjust to the different sensation of spending longer periods of time on your feet, you’re sure to find after a while that it feels completely normal and much healthier than sitting squashed up in a chair all day long.
Getting up and moving is the key to a better posture, reduced pain and possibly even a longer lifespan, so it’s definitely worth giving it a try!