Every day, millions of people wake up in the morning, hop in their car and drive to work. Once at work they sit through their work day, and most of their breaks, before getting back into their car and driving home in the evening. Once at home, they prepare dinner, watch some TV and go to bed. This happens five or more days a week, and even on weekends and holidays. This modern lifestyle doesn’t leave much room for physical activity at all.
According to Statistics Canada, the average person walks less than half an hour per day – that means they’re sedentary the rest of the time!
In fact, 25% of Canadians report that they usually sit most of the day, with 41% claiming that during the workweek they walk for less than an hour. 6 Our U.S. counterparts also reportedly sit for about 10 hours (or more) a day.
These problems don’t just happen in adults, however. Children are also at risk!
Sitting for long periods has become a normal part of everyday life, and it is accepted by most people as a condition of our modern lives. Whether it’s our jobs that require us to sit for long periods, or the length of time we need to commute to work or school, or even the amount of time we spend driving just to go shopping, the result is the same: we are all sitting way too much, and it’s starting to affect our health.
Too much sitting is very unhealthy. Scientific research of the human body shows that sitting for too long is associated with obesity and chronic diseases, not to mention a shorter life span. We know that muscle activity keeps the brain stimulated and alert, and stimulates the creation of new brain cells. When we are sedentary for long periods of time, however, the opposite effect can be seen. In fact, chronic inactivity may also re-shape certain neurons, causing confusing signals to be sent to the nervous system. As a result, blood pressure is greatly affected, and can make a person much more susceptible to cardiovascular disease.
In addition, there are several orthopedic and chronic health problems that are associated with too much sitting:
- Neck, knee and lower extremity problems: While sitting at a computer, a natural reaction is to hold the head and neck forward. This leads to a strained and painful neck, sore shoulders and a sore back. The legs also weaken over time as the muscles degenerate, which can lead to injury of the knees and ankles. The glutes weaken from disuse, affecting both posture and stride.
- Poor diaphragm function, and bone and muscle degeneration: Without stimulation from standing, muscles weaken over time. This affects the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, leading to reduced oxygen intake, or ‘chest breathing’, and compression of the internal organs. Because weight bearing activities strengthen bones and increase their density, a lack of activity can cause osteoporosis and weakened bones.
- Pelvic floor, hip, shoulder and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ): Studies show a very strong correlation between jaw angle, pelvic alignment and the lower back. Postural issues and injuries in one area not only cause pain, they also impact muscle groups in other areas; it is a chain reaction. For example if the left side of the jaw has tight muscles, the right side of the hip will also be tight. Incorrect pelvic alignment and tight hip muscles can be caused by sitting for prolonged periods of time, which decreases the flexibility of the hips and causes tightening of the hip flexor muscles.
- Lower back pain and hernias: Sitting, especially when hunched forward, puts more pressure on the lower spine than standing. The vertebral disks are compressed, and there is reduced blood and fluid circulation in the spine which leads to stiffness and loss of flexibility. Sitting excessively while hunched over also increases the risk of herniated disks in your back, because of the increase in intradiscal pressure.7Compared to how much pressure the vertebras experience while in a standing position, hunching while sitting increases the pressure by 400%!
- Organ damage: Being sedentary causes slower blood flow and reduced fat burning, which leads to a greater risk of heart disease. The pancreas is also affected, because sitting for too long causes it to produce too much insulin, leading to diabetes. It may also contribute to breast, colon and endometrial cancers due to increased insulin production, weight gain or a decrease in antioxidant production in the body. The cancer link, however, is still being researched, and is unconfirmed at the time this article was published.
- Varicose veins: Sitting not only decreases circulation, it also increases fluid pressure in your lower body, causing blood to pool in your lower extremities. Swollen ankles, varicose veins and even blood clots (a.k.a. Deep vein thrombosis or DVT) are a big risk factor with prolonged sitting.
Small changes every day will lead to a healthier body down the road.
Getting up from a sitting position approximately every 30 minutes can drastically improve your health. Studies show that as soon as you get up from sitting, a chain of reactions occur in your body. Most notably, within 90 seconds of standing up the systems in your body that are responsible for controlling blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides are activated. These effects occur from simple muscle activation from carrying your body weight, and decrease your risk of obesity and diabetes Type 2.
If you’re used to sitting upwards of 6 hours a day, make small changes to alter this behavior, rather than ditching your chair altogether. By making these small changes, you’ll be increasing your movement during the day, thereby increasing the amount of time you spend standing.
- Look into getting an adjustable desk that allows for standing.
- Use an exercise ball to engage your core muscles instead of your regular office chair.
- Stretch your hip flexors, hamstrings and calves regularly.
- Incorporate yoga into your routine. Yoga is excellent for reducing stress, and improving the flexibility and function of your spine and extremities.
- Exercise consistently. If you’re short on time, try Burst Fitness!
One of the most important things we can do to ensure the health of our spines is to see a Chiropractor. Having your spine checked for postural issues and/ or misaligned vertebrae (subluxation) can help get your spine functioning optimally. This in turn helps to reduce the wear and tear on your spine. A healthy spine also helps to ensure proper nerve flow, which is essential for health in all areas of your body.