Human Beings evolved as a walking entity exploring the world on our feet…The strangest thing in the world is that people spend all day scrunched in a chair. It’s a form of physical entrapment.-James Levine MD author of Move a Little Lose a Lot
Just as the good doctor says, we spend much of our day trapped in a seated position. We sit and drink our coffee while we catch the morning news. We sit to and from work. Some of us sit many hours at work. We sit on a plane, at the movie theater, on our devices. Sit, sit, sit, sit.
That’s a lot of sitting and sitting is very hard on our framework. The skeleton, joints, muscles, organs are all affected. Our human bodies were not designed to sit for long periods of time.
Extended sitting leads to poor posture. And poor posture is tough, not only on your spine and back muscles, it scrunches all your internal organs so they do not get good blood flow, and work efficiently. Prolonged sitting places the entire weight of your torso on your butt and lower spine area, for most of us too long, and some of us nearly all day long.
All of the collective time we spend seated has the very strong potential to create some serious weak links in the body. Like a weak link in any type of machinery, if not properly addressed and fixed, it’s gonna blow.
You may or may not feel the weak link depending on where it is deteriorating. It may appear as a small nagging pain, or it may come on you suddenly when you are out for a run, raking the yard, bending over to feed the dog, or stepping off a curb.
In my research, I have found numerous problems chronic sitting disease can cause. Here’s a few:
- back and spinal injuries
- weight gain and slowing of the metabolism
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- repetitive use injuries
- heart disease
- flattening of the gluteal muscles
- poor core strength and mobility
There is a solution…
If we could incorporate a few specific movements daily to offset some of the negative effects of sitting throughout the course of the day, we can begin to ward off some or all of these effects. And potentially avoid a visit to the orthopedic surgeon (the car mechanics of the human body frame), physical therapist, or orthopedic fitness specialist. Or worse yet, the cardiologist.
Modern sedentary lifestyles do not support standing much less moving. Most of us are no longer hunting and gathering for a career. According to a NY Times article, 80% of U.S. jobs are sedentary or require light movement at best. Add this to our leisure screen time (4.4 hrs on average) coupled with the quest to ever make life ever easier, our bodies are paying the price.
Our mind has evolved to perform seated work, our bodies have not. Until this happens in a few thousand years or so, we must bridge the gap with movement.
Unfortunately, and counter to common belief, a few hours a week spent in yoga, bootcamp, cycle, whatever class is not enough to keep these conditions caused by sitting at bay. There has been a new term coined for fitness folks who exercise regularly, but spend a good amount of time in the chair either due to work or leisure…
Active Couch Potato
My previous jobs, restaurant serving, preschool work, and fitness training were highly active jobs, and I never had to worry about prolonged sitting. And I am grateful for those jobs, and the fact they kept me upright. Sometimes I would not sit, other than to eat, from 8 in the morning til 8 at night.
Now I am semi-retired, travel the country with my honey, teach class occasionally, and write blog posts. I sit more than I ever have since, well, since I have been walking this earth. And all this sitting set me up for a nice injury a few weeks back.
In addition to my sitting hours, I had a great active week. The kind that makes me smile. I mastered (I thought) a new yoga pose I have been working on for years. I upped my speedwork day for running to 10 intervals, I ran a 7 mile stretch, and took a few epic walks. The activity took place over several days, and I made sure I got a day of rest as well. I try very hard to be a good steward of my body. I thought I did everything right.
On the Saturday following all this great fitness work (and my hours of sitting), I was walking to the car after attending a fest in downtown Tampa, and I stepped off a curb I did not see. It gave me a good jolt, but I didn’t think about it too much until I returned to the car, and it felt as if I was sitting on a golf ball. Ouch, and annoying. I hurt a muscle in my glute. And it worsened. Then I ran on it. Then it worsened even more.
I created a perfect storm. I sat too much, worked out too hard, and BOOM, stepping off that curb activated my weak link.
Fortunately, I am an orthopedic fitness specialist, so I was able to rehab my injury, once I stopped denying I had one, and am now pain-free. But I had to take 2 weeks off from running. I don’t know if you know any runners, but they do not appreciate time off. Sorry Bruce, I hope I wasn’t too grumpy…
My point is…If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. No matter how fit you may believe you are; if you sit too much you will create weak links. No way around it.
Here’s a few tips:
- stand or move 1-3 minutes for every 1/2 hr you are seated
- stand or pace while texting or talking on your phone
- stand up and move while watching your favorite TV shows. Quit using your DVR and use commerial breaks for movement breaks
- park out from the store, doctor, work, etc
- take the stairs
- get a dog and walk it or walk the neighbors dog
- actively play with your kids or grandkids (and lead by example, they are watching!)
I have created a small 3 minute movement pattern to get us up off our butts while we are at work or leisure-ing. The sequence will be located in my next post.
In fact, I have been sitting here over an hour, I think I need to use it…So if you will forgive me while I enjoy a movement break, I will leave with a few words from the folks at Harvard Health Publications who used the findings of 47 studies to come to this conclusion:
…people who sat for long periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes-even those who exercise regularly. The negative effects were more pronounced in people who did little or no exercise…