How To Combat The Effects Of A Sedentary Lifestyle
- Sunday, 17 Apr, 2022
Sitting all day at work takes its toll on your body and your health—a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with higher mortality and disease rates—but a study from sports medicine researchers has positive news for the millions of Americans who find themselves behind a desk from 9 to 5 every day. A certain amount of daily exercise can counter the deadly effects, and it's not too difficult to achieve.
It’s no surprise that sitting in a chair all day is rough on our bodies. While making time to exercise may not totally negate the effects of sitting for hours on end, it can certainly help. Some research suggests that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day can counter various effects of sitting—which can include things like increased risk of high blood pressure and blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and even higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
What sitting all day does to your body?
Sitting for long periods, especially with poor posture, makes your hip flexors tight, which causes the glutes (butt muscles) to lengthen to compensate. Over time, this compromises the ability of the gluteal muscles to activate properly, leading to a condition called gluteal amnesia, also known as dead butt syndrome. When your glutes can't do their job, other muscles in your body have to work harder, which ultimately can overwork them, leading to poor body alignment and aches.
The damage from prolonged sitting is thought to be due to reduced muscle activity, especially in the large muscles of the legs and back, which can decrease the body's ability to regulate blood sugar and remove harmful blood fats. Sitting for long periods may also adversely affect blood vessel function and increase food cravings, causing us to eat more and gain weight.
To reduce sitting time, there are actions you can take
- At work, stand for a few minutes every half-hour, perhaps during phone calls, coffee breaks or meetings.
- If possible, use a desk that lets you work both standing and seated. Or try one attached to a treadmill that allows you to slowly walk while you work.
- In the car, park as far away as possible from the door so you'll be able to walk more. Stand if you ride the bus or subway.
- At home, get up regularly from your computer. Try standing and doing chores while watching TV.
The fitness recommendation above also aligns nicely with recent research suggesting that 35 minutes of exercise per day—either from higher-intensity cardio or lower-impact movement (yoga, stretching)—is the magic number to help stave off depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The findings also coincide well with the World Health Organization's (WHO) newly released 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour, which recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week for able-bodied adults.
Simple 8 mobility drills to help you counteract sitting
1. Supported Backbend
Stand facing away from a wall, your heels about 1' away from the baseboard. With your arms over your head, elbows bent backward so that your palms are facing the wall, slowly lean back and catch your body weight with your hands. Walk your hands down the wall until you begin to feel a stretch.
Be sure to start slowly; as your back gets stronger, you'll be able to go deeper into the backbend. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, drop your jaw, and breathe in and out through your nostrils as you hold the backbend.
2. Lunge and Rotate
The lunge and rotation address several things specific to sitting all at the same time. It’s one of my staples for desk workers as it’s a great bang for your buck exercise. In the deep lunge position, we open up and stretch the hip flexors on the back leg, stretch the glutes and adductors on the front leg, and promote extension and rotation through our thoracic spine or upper back. All of these movements are great for counteracting seated desk posture.
Make sure you are optimising your position by adopting both a long and wide stride to really open up the hips. Just keep a vertical shin on your front leg for good alignment. Aim for 5-10 rotations on each side.
3. Downward dog
Press into your hands and feet, hands shoulder-width, feet hips-width. Bend your knees and lift your hips. Lengthen your tailbone up and release the crown of your head down. This allows your spine to lengthen and your vertebrae to decompress after sitting all day.
4. Half-kneel stretch
Start in a half kneel, posterior tilt your pelvis (flatten your low back) and inhale. Shift your body weight forward as you exhale. I tell patients to think of an X on the front of the hip of the back leg. Imagine pushing this X forward while not letting your back arch.
5. Spinal twists
Sitting tall with feet on the floor hip-width apart, lift through the spine and rotate keeping your core tight. You can use chair arms to gently assist the twist. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat on the other side. Repeat five times.
Walking is great for you, and it’s a great type of movement to offset sitting, so take the opportunity whenever you can. Many people can greatly increase the incidental physical activity they accumulate throughout the week just by making small tweaks in their daily routine.
If you sit at a desk for a large part of the day, get up and take a walk for a few minutes every 30-60 minutes. Walk to work or get off at the bus stop earlier than your usual stop to get in some extra walking.
7. Chest opener
Sitting tall with feet on the floor hip-width apart, hands interlaced behind head and elbows wide. Lift through the spine and look up to the ceiling, taking the weight of the head back into the hands. Return. Close the elbows, then gently round the upper spine to stretch the back of the neck. Repeat five times.
8. Get off the couch!
Do you really need to adopt the same sitting position when you’re at home watching TV in your spare time? Try to commit yourself to not sitting on your couch for 1 week or 2 weeks (or a month!) and instead sit on the floor. What you’ll find is you’ll naturally shuffle around your sitting position anyway, but you can also use this time as an opportunity to stretch and perform the above mobility drills whilst you’re watching TV. Just try not sitting on your couch for a while and see what happens.