Many of us spend as much as 80% of our working day sedentary, and according to research, more than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting, whether it is working at a computer, commuting, or watching television.
As part of an Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study published in the European Heart Journal, researchers monitored the activity levels of approximately 700 adults, and found that sitting increases the risk factors for heart disease. For every two hours a day spent sitting, there was an associated increase in weight and waist size, as well as a rise in levels of blood sugar and cholesterol. In contrast, time spent walking rather than sitting not only lowered cholesterol and blood sugar levels, but also reduced waist size and weight. In fact, it was found that simply substituting two hours of standing for sitting was enough to improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
A report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which included a review of 47 articles, examined the association between sedentary time and hospitalisations, mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer in adults, regardless of physical activity. Higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cancer-related deaths were documented in very sedentary people. The research also suggested that being sedentary has harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism, both of which affect a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.
“You burn 30% more calories when you’re standing than when you’re sitting. It’s not a huge amount, but it adds up over time and contributes to weight control”, says Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
POSTURE, POSTURE, POSTURE
Over time, your muscles adapt to whichever position you adopt the most frequently. If this is a slumped posture, your core muscles and spinal extensor muscles weaken, your shoulder & scapular stability muscles weaken, your neck and chest muscles tighten, your thoracic spine (upper to mid back) stiffens up, your hip flexor and hamstring muscles tighten, and your gluteal muscles weaken. This imbalance can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain, as well as an inefficiency in muscle use and movement patterns, and consequently problems with your daily activities or sports.
Sitting in a flexed or slouched position also places a lot of pressure on the intervertebral discs of your spine, leading to early degeneration and possibly pain and injury.
SO WHAT CAN I DO?
On top of regular exercise in order to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve overall health, most of us can find ways to stand more. Incorporate standing into your normal daily routine and make it into a habit. Try to stand at some point during every half hour period, even if it’s just for a short time.
Here are some strategies to lessen the time that you are sitting:
- Stand while you are waiting for the bus, train or ferry
- Put a post-it note on your computer or download a phone app that reminds you to stand every half hour
- Use a smaller water glass so that you need to stand to fill it up regularly
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Ask your employer about the possibility of purchasing a standing desk (or buy one yourself if you are a business owner or work for yourself). If you’re handy, you could also try making one yourself.
- Get up and walk to a co-worker’s desk or office instead of writing an email to them.
- Stand up every time you talk on the phone
- Go for a walk at lunch time, even if it’s just around the block
- Suggest “standing meetings” to your co-workers
- Regularly stretch and move all the muscles that have been shortened while sitting
- Stand up during every ad break while watching TV
When you do have to sit, adopting the correct seated posture is imperative to help avoid back, shoulder or neck pain. Ideally, you should sit in the “neutral” position, which is where all the spinal curves are in their natural mid position. This helps to distribute spinal loads evenly through all of the joints & discs, also allowing the core muscle system to work more effectively.
Your chair should have a good lumbar support, and your elbows should rest at a right angle, with your shoulders gently back.
Your knees and hips should also be at a right angle, with your feet planted evenly (a foot stool may be necessary).
Keep thinking of “growing tall” and lengthening through the crown of your head to lift some of the compression off your spine.
You shouldn’t feel any strain in any part of your body when you are sitting in the correct posture, and be careful that you are not over-correcting.
HOW CAN PILATES HELP?
Pilates is a great way to help improve your posture & strengthen the muscles required to maintain a good posture, (and is also an hour of time that you are not sitting!). Book in with one of our physiotherapists at Fix and Flex Pilates & Physiotherapy and we can develop an individually tailored program to help you combat the issues that arise from having a bad posture!
‘Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death’, Julie Corliss, Harvard Heart Letter, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/much-sitting-linked-heart-disease-diabetes-premature-death-201501227618.
‘Standing up for better heart health’, Nancy Ferrari, Harvard Health, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/standing-up-for-better-heart-health-201508058167.
‘The Health Hazards of Sitting’, Bonnie Berkowitz & Patterson Clark, https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/.
‘Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’, Aviroop Biswas, Paul I. Oh, Guy E. Faulkner, Ravi R. Bajaj, Michael A. Silver, Marc S. Mitchell, and David A. Alter, Annals of Internal Medicine.