The Truth about Sitting
By Emily Kates • Student Volunteer
Is sitting really the new smoking? Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic says that “sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting.” His main message is that “we are sitting ourselves to death.” Sitting may seem perfectly safe and it is something we have come to accept as normal practice in our modern world, yet underneath its apparent innocence lies a long and, in some ways, complicated list of negative ramifications. Putting it simply, “our bodies are built for movement, in turn movement keeps our bodies alive”. Even individuals who go to the gym regularly are still part of our sedentary population because we spend the rest of the time sitting while we eat, sitting while we drive, sitting at work, sitting in front the computer, sitting in front of the television, and sitting while using our phone, tablet, iPad or e-reader. Sitting is something that is rarely done in moderation, and over long periods of time our muscles become inactive, which leads to poor posture, resulting in compromised body function. The body is designed to adapt to its environment, and thus the body adapts this poor postured sedentary position, making it the “new normal,” which then impacts the way we move for the rest of the day. As Dr. Joel says, “structure dictates functions,” and therefore if our structure has adapted to sitting, which is associated with poor posture, leading to poor movement quality, it will ultimately affect the quality of our lives.
Some of the top reasons why sitting is bad is that sitting is an orthopedic disaster and can cause a myriad of body dysfunctions. Not to mention, sitting means that you are not moving and being sedentary can have significant negative long-term health effects.
Noted ramifications of sitting can be brain fog, increased neck pain, tight chest & shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome, compromised diaphragm/hindered breathing, weight gain, tight hips, knee pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, muscle degeneration which can lead to lower back pain and increased risk of type 2 diabetes and/or heart disease.
Physical activity and exercise will make you healthier overall, but despite the many benefits of exercise, it often isn’t enough to undo eight or more hours of sitting. The problem is that “when you sit for prolonged periods, your body is forced into a compromised position, which leads to compromised function”. It is possible, however, to make some changes to your lifestyle that will result in dramatic improvements.
In his book ‘Deskbound‘ Dr. Kelly Starett’s lays out a few guidelines to help you sit less —
1. Reduce optional sitting in your life
• Look to make your work space more active
• If you can’t get a standing desk, make your own
• Put some boxes on top of your desk, place your monitor on top of the boxes and work while standing up.
• In a standing environment you can easily change your position and move
• Look for ways to eliminate sitting from your leisure time
• Try sitting on the floor and doing some mobility work while watching television
2. For every 30 minutes that you are sitting move for at least 2 minutes
• The movement does not need to be complex
• Take a walk around the office
• Take a walk to the bathroom, grab a coffee or refill your water bottle
• Change your position frequently throughout the day
• Fidgeting is good. It is your body’s way of cueing you to move
3. Prioritize position and mechanics whenever you can
• Note– It takes practice to make this a habit
• Sitting and standing up follows the same body mechanics as a squat
• Though it is not weighted, it is important to maintain proper positioning and form
• Picking something up off the floor follows the same body mechanics as a deadlift
• Again, it is important to maintain the proper position and form
4. Perform 10-15 minutes of daily maintenance on your body (Move by Design)
• Mobility techniques that help resolve pain & restore suppleness to tight muscles
• Maintenance is most effective when it is practiced daily (like brushing your teeth!)
The main take away message is Sit LESS, Move MORE. Standing up is the first step, but moving is the goal! Ultimately, moving well and moving often is good nutrition for your body.