Sitting: rest and RISK! (Is sitting killing us?)

Sitting makes up for a major part of our daily lives. The modern lifestyle requires us to sit for large periods of time. While it can be a wonderful rest to sit for a while after a long walk or a period of hard work, sitting is now more and more becoming a risk to the health of our bodies.

In this blog post we will look at the dangers of sitting too much, what problems it causes, how we can avoid or at least diminish those problems and so how to create a healthy balance between the “rest” and the “risk” elements of sitting.

The main problem with sitting all day long is that it prevents us from doing other (healthier) activities. When we are sitting, we are not walking, running, crawling, swimming, climbing, lifting or even standing. Not few of us sit for 15 hours a day, so not much time is left for those other activities. We really have turned into sedentary people. And as they say, the problem is, sedentary people can’t run away from diseases (this slogan was actually used by the Portuguese Ministry of Health in a campaign to promote a healthier lifestyle).

Also, we are not saying that sitting is inherently bad since it can be a nice resting position for a while after other activities and can also help us concentrate while we need to accomplish important tasks that require fine motor skills.

On a muscular level, prolonged sitting leads to several issues that with time have the potential to create major imbalances in the body.
One of them is that during sitting, the gluteal muscles (glutes, butt muscles) “switch off”, that means they become inactive or inhibited due to being in a lengthened position for a long time. Another related issue is that the hip flexor muscles tend to become short and tightened. Apart from those, there are potentially a lot of further muscular imbalances and postural problems related to long periods of sitting (often spent in horrible body positions), which include a rounded upper back (problems with thoracic spine extension, tight upper back and neck muscles) that in turn can lead to a host of other problems.

But apart from the muscular imbalances it can create, sitting brings even greater risks to our health. A recent study from Australia has shown that individuals who sat in front of the TV for four or more hours a day had an 80% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than for those who reported watching fewer than two hours daily. Other studies have shown that the increased risk to develop life-threatening conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease coming from prolonged sitting was unrelated to whether people did exercise or not. That means that, even though exercise is extremely important as part of a healthy lifestyle, in itself it cannot undo the health damages of prolonged sitting.

The infographic at the end of this post will further explain why sitting might be killing us.

Now, let’s look at how we can avoid or at least limit the problems and dangers that go along with sitting for extended periods of time.

I would like to introduce the concept of microbreaks which are precisely one effective tool to counteract the perils of sitting. Microbreaks are very small breaks that one takes every 10 to 20 minutes from one’s working position if it is a static position like in sitting at a desk. While of course it would desirable to have longer breaks, if taken every 10 to 20 minutes, breaks of just 30 to 60 seconds can already be sufficient to counterbalance the effects of sitting for an extended period previously.

To learn more details about microbreaks, please see the extensive article of Paul Ingraham of SaveYourself, the small microbreak brochure including two exercise descriptions by LA chiropractor Craig S. Liebenson and the article by Coach Keats Snydeman from Arizona, USA. The latter has also posted a clear and informative video on the topic which you can see down below, followed by another video by chiropractor Dr. Steve Hoffman from “Core Wellness Institute”.

Having all this information in mind, let’s all be more active!
If you happen to have a desk job, set up a reminder on your computer to make you get up and have a microbreak every 20 minutes. Find ways of spending more time walking and standing, rather than sitting the whole day. Get up, stand up! It might save your life!

And to conclude this post, I’ll share an interesting infographic (created by medicalbillingandcoding.org) and some further links and with you below.

Sitting is Killing you - medicalbillingandcoding.org

1 – New York Times blog article on the dangers of sitting:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/get-up-get-out-dont-sit/

2 – Great extensive article on shoes, sitting and lower body dysfunctions by Steven Law from EatMoveImprove.

http://www.eatmoveimprove.com/2009/11/shoes-sitting-and-lower-body-dysfunctions/

3 – Stanford University guidelines for microbreaks

http://www.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/general/ergo/microbreaks.html

4 – Great article on the risks of sitting with practical tips by University of New Mexico researcher Len Kravitz, Ph.D.

https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/sittingUNM.html

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Fix posture – feel better!

As mentioned in an earlier post, our modern day sedentary lifestyle is taxing to our bodies in many ways. Prolonged sitting, inactivity and less and less physical challenges make for low body awareness, atrophied muscles and many cardiovascular conditions. A particularly noticeable outcome of this is a general prevalence of poor posture.

In short: poor posture is an epidemic.

'How_Does_Your_POSTURE_Line_Up'_-_NARA_-_514534
Poor posture malalignment

If you happen to be in a place full of people, just have a look around and observe peoples’ posture while they are sitting and working or even when they are standing or walking. How is the position of their neck and head? How about the curves of their spine? Do the shoulders slouch forward? Are the feet directed forward or do they turn in or outward?

Chances are high that you will be able to observe many things that reveal some severe imbalances in peoples’ muscular-skeletal system, resulting from long years of bad habits and poor movement patterns.
Many people suffer from what is sometimes called the “crossed posture syndrome“.

Have a look at this short video that is introducing the crossed posture syndrome.

Now, why is it that so many of us have poor postural habits?

On one hand, it certainly has to do with the modern day tendency to spend large amounts of time sitting (often in horrible positions), slouching forward, while we are working, writing, eating or watching TV – starting from a very young age, which results in the observation of horrendous muscular imbalances and movement deficits in many children already at primary school level.
Another big factor is stress, since the stress response activates a series of physical mechanisms that can contribute largely to poor posture if they are turned on constantly.

Family_watching_television_1958
Sedentary Lifestyle – 1958

The problem with poor posture is not only that it looks really bad in the mirror and to other people, but also that it can lead to a host of serious health complaints and affect our bodies and minds in a variety of negative ways.

First of all, as mentioned above, some muscles will get hyperactive and tight whereas others will get chronically weak and long.

Undue stress is put on the spine and other joints when the surrounding muscles get out of balance and when pain sets in, the body tries to find ways to ease it, which can lead to even worse posture. Not only will there be increased strain on certain joints, but the imbalances also make for a decreased range of motion (=inferior movement) and an increased occurrence of painful trigger points and tightness in the body.

Look at this informative video of Chicago chiropractor and movement specialist Dr. Evan Osar on posture and sitting:

In short: bad posture is bad news!

Bad_posture
Bad posture = bad news for the body

But, there are also a lot of myths about posture, have a look at some of them in this link to an article of the Huffington Post:

And here another document listing 10 popular myths about posture.

Now, there are several things we can do to do our bodies good and start improving our posture. Generally, this can be summarized into at least four points:

  • Postural awareness and training
  • Stretching of the tight muscles
  • Strengthening of the weak muscles
  • Soft-tissue work to release trigger points and restore normal health/functioning (this can be professional massage treatment or self-massage with tools like foam rollers)

At this point, it is worth mentioning that also around the topic of posture and postural correction there are a lot of different opinions and approaches – as with many topics related to health and well-being. However, the information provided here seem sensible and widely recognized.

First of all, we need to become aware of our postural habits throughout the day and also become conscious of where our problems lie.

Here is a great informative blog post by performance coach Keats Snideman from Arizona, USA, on posture and postural assessment (I can also only recommend his “The other 23-hours-series on his blog which includes posts about various related topics like stress, sleep, posture, microbreaks, rest positions, massage and stretching).

After initially becoming aware of our problems and reminding ourselves throughout the day, we need to then relearn how to move in a more functional and healthy way and there are many different methods to do this, some focus more on relearning certain movement patterns and strengthening weak muscles through specific exercises, others more on awareness and proper alignment during exercises and everyday activities (like Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique).

To help balance out our muscular imbalances, most trainers recommend some sort of a corrective exercise program that helps strengthening weak and stretching out tight muscles.

Maybe most importantly, we have to start adopting better posture during all of our activities during the day, which can be assisted by a corrective exercise program that helps weak muscles to become stronger and tight muscles to become suppler. If we happen to sit a lot in our jobs or studies, we need to find a good, ergonomic way to sit on our computers or desks, as well as adopting the habit of taking frequent breaks from sitting, possibly including some short exercises that can reverse the bad effects of our prolonged periods of sitting.

Have a look at this video, explaining how to have better posture when sitting and working at the computer in an illustrative way:

On the same note, I’ll share an infographic by I found that contains 7 steps to better posture while working. Have a look (click on it for bigger size)!

7-steps-to-better-posture_50f854cc8e9be
Infographic by http://www.furniturewholesalers.com

To provide some further good video and reading material to delve deeper into the topic, I will conclude this blog post by providing several links to videos, pictures and websites that focus on this topic.

First of all, I’d like to recommend two youtube channels that provide a lot of videos on correcting posture.

One channel is by Indiana (USA) based chiropractor Steve Hoffman who provides a lot of videos on improving posture and movement as well as other information like nutrition and wellness. One of his videos was already embedded above.

https://www.youtube.com/user/posturedoc

Here one more detailed introductory video on the crossed posture syndrome by Dr. Steve Hoffman.

And, another very good and informative youtube channel almost exclusively dedicated to posture related topic is the “posturevideos” channel by US chiropractor Dr. Paula Moore.

http://www.youtube.com/user/posturevideos

Look here at the great introductory video series “7 Biggest Posture Mistakes”:

Furthermore, I found another good infographic on the topic that I’m sharing below. Have a look at it and learn more interesting facts related to the topic of posture.

posture1-infographic1
Infographic by Greatist and Voltier Digital

OK, I hope this served as a helpful introduction to the topic and as a motivation for all of us to become conscious of and start to improve our posture. Please share this information and if you discovered that your posture is less than optimal while reading this post, don’t despair (it’s the case for most of us) and don’t be too hard on yourself (look at the effects of feeling bad about oneself in the comic below :-)), but start to be active NOW and soon enjoy the benefits!

ME_479_Posture