Why sitting is so bad for us And what to do about it.
Sitting. It’s something we don’t usually give that much thought to, but it’s something the majority of us are doing far too much. From working long hours at desk-based jobs, to lengthy commutes to and from work, to nights at home on the couch watching TV or internet surfing, some of us are lucky to spend more than a couple of hours a day on our feet.
You may have already heard of some of the research that has shown the detrimental effects this much sitting is having on our health, with strong links to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and an increased risk of early mortality.
And unfortunately, it’s not something that can be remedied by an hour of exercise each day. Why? Because all that inactivity sends a signal to your brain that changes your metabolism, causing an increase in blood sugar levels, a 90% decrease in the amount of stored fat that’s used as fuel in your body, while your body burns only one calorie a minute, one-third of that used when walking.
All that sitting also has a devastating effect on your physicality. Trent Langlands, movement specialist at Lifecycle Fitness, says the distortion that he’s seen his client’s bodies from hours spent sitting all day is “horrific”.
“Once you sit, you’re tightening your hip flexors around your pelvic lumbar area,” he explains. “They become so shortened that it throws your hips out, which then compromises your gluteal region, resulting in very weak glutes. When you sit in front of a computer or in your car, your spine ends up in flexion all day, in what’s known as a kyphotic state, which is a real rounding of the spine. That in turn puts your neck out and you end up very short right through your pec minor and pec major muscles and tight through your back.”
Trent explains that this misalignment of the body has a domino effect on our health and wellbeing.
“Being in that kyphosis all day puts a lot of pressure on your diaphragm, so you can’t breathe properly, and when you can’t breathe properly, that causes stress and anxiety. Your body is designed to be on its feet. When you sit down, all those endorphins and chemicals in your brain are switched off.”
If reading all this is just making your slump even further into your chair, don’t be too disheartened. There are steps you can take that can minimise the damage done.
1. Stop training
While it might seem counterintuitive, Trent says people whose posture has been affected by sitting should work on that before they train any further.
“People are in the mindset of, ‘I’ve only got half an hour, I’ve got to run, I’ve got to train’, but I say to people that you’ve got to focus on your posture,” he says. “If you’ve got bad posture and you’re not doing anything to improve it, all you’re doing is building on top of distortion. It’s just not sustainable and you’re going to give yourself an injury in time. You’ve got to do myofascial release, work on all those tight trigger points in the body. You need to do a lot of stretching, yoga, pilates and the like.”
Trent adds that popular weight-training exercises for men, such as bench presses and dead lifts, are just adding to the body distortions we get from sitting all day, “that kyphosis, the rounded shoulders, the shortened pec, the lordosis, that sway in the lower back, it’s just compounding it.”
2. Learn how to stand properly
Ironically, all this sitting now means that we’re no longer standing correctly.
“These days posture, or how to stand tall, is a skill that needs to be taught,” says Trent. “You’ve got to understand how to be aligned – drawing your hips back, pulling your shoulders back but not elevating through your traps, drawing in your belly button, opening up through your rib cage and chest.”
3. Look at getting a sit/stand desk
Many people are now making the switch to a standing desk, or a sit/stand desk where you can alternate between sitting and standing. A sit/stand desk tends to be most recommended, to give you the ability to vary between sitting and standing – especially to start with, as your body will struggle to adjust to standing all day if you’re used to sitting. With time though, you’ll find that not only will you be burning more calories that you would while sitting, you’ll become more focused and productive.
4. Try a stability ball
If work doesn’t allow you to have a sit/stand desk – or even if they do – try sitting on an exercise or stability ball, which forces you to make tiny movements throughout the day to keep your balance. Known as active sitting, it’s great for strengthening your core and back, while keeping you more focused.
5. Schedule regular movement breaks
An Australian study found it’s the long, continuous bouts of sitting that are the most problematic and that frequent breaks can alleviate much of the damage. Be sure to stand up at least every half hour, whether it’s when making a phone call or visiting a colleague. Drink lots of water to ensure regular toilet breaks and walk briskly when you go, or better yet, walk up a couple of flights of stairs and go there.
6. Avoid TV binge watching sessions
The advent of Netflix and pre-recording means we don’t have the excuse of commercials to get up and move around while watching TV. Regardless, you should still break every half an hour and get moving for at least five minutes. These small movements might not seem like they make much of a difference, but they really do. It’s not how long you move during these breaks, or even how you move – it’s how often you move that counts.
Better yet, watch less TV altogether and use that time to move more. If you’re a TV addict and you don’t see that changing anytime soon, consider buying or hiring a treadmill or other piece of cardio equipment that you can use while watching tv. Even just slow walking would be a huge improvement, your muscles would be moving and your blood would be pumping and you’d be more likely to reach the desired 10,000 steps a day.
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website