Oct 04, 2016 by spinalcare

Have you ever heard the idiom, “sitting is the new smoking”?  We have and we see the effects of it daily.

That might sound a bit extreme, but sitting and the sedentary lifestyle it promotes have become a significant healthcare issue of the 21st century. We live in a society where it is common to work a desk job, drive 30+ minutes to work, binge watch TV for days at a time, and play video games for hours. There has been a new wave in research that correlates lack of activity and negative impact to your health. Before you think: “This isn’t me!!! I run, I lift, I spin, I do CrossFit!”  – a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t necessary refer to your typical couch potato, but applies to the person that sits at a desk for 8 hours a day (many of us longer) or has a longer commute to work. The average person sits for 8-10 hours a day at work and has a 45-minute commute each way.  That’s upwards of 50% of your day sitting just related to work.

We see the effects of prolonged sitting on our patients every day.  From hip flexors that won’t release to hamstrings and glutes that are so tight they become essentially inactive.  Prolonged sitting is a huge contributor to the low back pain epidemic.  Our primary patient complaint is low back and hip pain – in which sitting plays a major role in almost 80% of those cases.  We as humans weren’t designed to sit for long periods.  If you look at our ancestors, they were up hunting and gathering for most of their waking hours in order to survive.  Our modern day hunting and gathering revolves around hunting through the fridge and gathering bargains on-line.  The more sedentary we get, the more negative impacts we see on the body

Prolonged sitting causes changes not just on the musculo-skeletal level, but on a cellular and global level throughout the body.  When sitting for a prolonged period there is a rise in blood pressure, blood sugar, and even cholesterol; the body as a whole slows down. However, within 90 seconds of standing, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol are activated1. You may notice when you are sitting for a long time you feel stiff upon standing. Slower blood flow, lack of joint movement, and lack of engagement of the abdominal muscles will cause stiffness on a global level. Do you ever feel lethargic and less alert after sitting for a long time? This is because slower blood flow affects the brain as well. It should make sense that anyone will lose concentration and focus after sitting for too long. Standing up will allow for increased blood flow, the use of more movement within the joint, and abdominal muscle activation along with increased mental alacrity.

While comparing sitting and smoking might sound extreme, let’s look at the startling truth. A study was published in the Annual of Internal Medicine that revealed an association between sedentary time and ill health, including death2. If you have a desk job, long commute to work, or sit for prolonged periods in general you are more likely to develop type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even die from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The risk only escalates further if you have a family history of any of these issues.

If you are hard-headed (like us!) then you may be reading the above thinking you can simply “undo” any sitting throughout the day with a longer, more intense workout.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. The same study showed that the association between sitting and morbidity was true even with regular exercise. So, you can do 3 WODs, or run until you are in the red zone for hours after your 8-hour day of sitting, and you are still just as likely to develop diseases stated above. This only further emphasizes the importance of getting up and moving during your work day.

We realize that getting up and moving is a lot to ask when you have 16 hours of work and only 8 hours to complete it. There are several variations of inexpensive “stand up” desks.  Target and Wayfair have great adjustable desks that will allow for you to sit or stand at reasonable prices. It would be ideal to aim to stand up for at least 4 out of the 8 hours throughout the workday. When you are standing you then have the option to sway and rotate the hips, keeping those abdominal and pelvic muscles mobile and promoting circulation.  There is also the option to set an alarm on your computer or phone that will prompt you to get up and walk at set intervals.

Small changes throughout your day really can add up for a significant change in your health.  Get up and move!  Take the stairs rather than the elevator, walk outside to get the newspaper, read a book while hula hooping (and then send us a video of it), play on the floor with your kids, or dance and sing with your family in the living room. . . Just MOVE!


Works Cited

1Levine, James A. Get Up!: The Dire Health Consequences of Sitting and What We Can Do About It. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2014. Print.

2Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, Bajaj RR, Silver MA, Mitchell MS, et al. Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651