Sitting is the new smoking. The new silent killer round the block. About 16,000 studies have now established that chronic sitting is an independent risk factor for poor health and early death. It can also be a significant factor in back, neck, and sciatic pain. Evidence shows that prolonged sitting is devastating your health. It actively promotes dozens of chronic diseases, including overweight and type 2 diabetes, even if you are very fit. There is a growing scientific consensus that the more time you spend sitting, the shorter and less healthy your life may be. Excessive sitting, such as at a desk or in front of the TV, significantly impacts your cardiovascular and metabolic function.This raises your risk for heart attack, type 2 diabetes, insomnia, arthritis, and certain types of cancer and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sitting for extended periods of time increases your risk for premature death. This is especially concerning given the fact that you may be vulnerable to these risks even if you are a fit athlete who exercises regularly.
It has been established that excess sitting may lead to physical health problems, but studies show it may harm your mental health as well. People who sit more than seven hours per day were found to have a 47 percent higher risk of depression than those who sit four hours or less. Government employees who spent more than six hours of their workday sitting experienced more psychological distress than those who sat less than three hours and children who habitually spend long hours in front of computer or TV screens experience more mental problems, including poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and diminished happiness. A recent study correlated sitting time and TV viewing time with increased fibrinogen and C reactive protein, which helps explain this increased cardiovascular risk.
Science now shows us that temporary vigorous exercise cannot compensate for the damage incurred by prolonged daily sitting. As a general guideline, if you’ve been sitting for an hour, you’ve sat too long. At minimum, you should not sit for more than 50 minutes out of every hour. Better yet, try to keep your sitting to a minimum; the less the better. Personally strive for less than an hour a day of sitting. Studies looking at life in agriculture environments show that people in the villages sit for about three hours a day. The average office worker can sit for 13 to 15 hours a day. Beneficial molecular effects are activated simply by carrying your bodyweight upon your legs. Those cellular mechanisms are also responsible for pushing fuels into your cells. It’s becoming increasingly clear that intermittent movement is critical for health and longevity, even more so than a regular workout routine. In order to be healthy, you have to get up off your butt and you have to do it often. The key to minimizing the effects of sitting is to stand up often, optimally every 15 minutes, and perform a different exercise for 30-60 seconds.
The act of standing up is more effective than walking for counteracting the ill effects of sitting, the key is how many times you stand up. It’s actually the change in posture that is the most powerful signal, in terms of having a beneficial impact on your health, not the act of standing in and of itself. The key to counteract the ill effects of sitting is to repeatedly interrupt your sitting and frequent intermittent interactions with gravity like standing up 35 times at once will provide only a small percent of the benefit of standing up once every 20 minutes. It’s interacting regularly with gravity. The changes in bone and muscle that occur in one year’s time is approximately one percent loss of bone or muscle in just one week to one month when you’re in space. You get close to a 10-fold acceleration of the aging process when you live in a gravity-free environment. And this is part of the equation when it comes to explaining why chronic sitting is an independent risk factor for premature death.
Changes that accompany aging are more likely a direct result of our lifestyle rather than the inevitable outcome associated with a numerical or physiological age. The good news is that you can prevent, and to a great degree delay, the damage associated with a large portion of biological aging, especially the most crippling, which is pain with movement and loss of flexibility. It also means that getting too hung up on a once-a-day exercise routine is to put the cart before the horse. FIRST you need to make sure you’re engaging in more or less perpetual non-exercise movement, as this is an independent risk factor. You then want to add structured exercise on top of that to reap all the benefits associated with exercise. Going to the gym a few times a week for an hour simply isn’t going to counteract hours upon hours of chronic uninterrupted sitting, which essentially mimics a microgravity situation, i.e. you’re not exerting your body against gravity. Only frequent non-exercise movement will do that and walking 10,000 steps per day over and above your regular fitness routine.
We are designed to squat to kneel. Sitting is okay, but it’s uninterrupted sitting that is bad for us as we are not designed to sit continuously. We are not designed to be in quasi-microgravity. It’s not how many hours of sitting that’s bad for you; it’s how often you interrupt that sitting that is GOOD for you. Standing is not the opposite of sitting, because sitting continuously is bad for you, and standing continuously is bad for you. The body is not designed to respond to square waves. Any retail employee will tell you that they suffer all kinds of consequences of many hours of standing on the job. Even nurses have known this for years that standing on the job is not good for you but about interrupting the sitting. It is not necessarily walking; it is the change in posture that matters. Lipoprotein lipase is dramatically reduced during inactivity, and increases with activity, the most effective activity standing up from a seated position. It is an enzyme that attaches to fat in your bloodstream and transports it into your muscles to be used as fuel. So essentially, simply by standing up, you are actively helping your body to burn fat for fuel. But what is it about the mechanism of standing up that would account for this? Standing up once every hour is more effective than walking on a treadmill for 15 minutes for cardiovascular and metabolic changes. Sitting down and standing up repeatedly for 32 minutes does NOT have the same effect as standing up once, 32 times over the course of a day. To get the benefit, the stimulus must be spread throughout the day even if you exercise regularly, it might not be enough to counteract the effects of too much sitting. Men who reported more than 23 hours a week of sedentary activity had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who reported less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity and many of these men routinely exercised.
Most of our parents drilled into our heads the importance of proper posture; yet modern day life causes us to frequently ignore these great recommendations. What’s worse, many of the posture-correcting strategies our parents taught us turn out to be wrong anyway. But how you sit may have a significant impact on the risks of sitting. Proper posture and properly using your body to work against gravity is the foundation upon which everything else related to your health is built. Yoga, Kriyayog, Feldenkrais/Gokale Methods addresses the root cause of physical pain, which is typically caused by improper posture. The methods teach you to reclaim your primal posture, which is the way your body was designed to stand, sit, and move. Conventional advice tells you to tuck in your pelvis to maintain an S-shaped spine, but a far more natural spine curvature is a J-spine—your back straight, your lumbar relatively flat, and your buttocks protruding slightly. Techniques to elongate your spine, proper head and neck posture, and strengthen your midsection and back to elongate and slim your torso to help maintain primal posture are to be learnt and inculcated. There’s a big difference between developing flexibility, which would be in your muscles, and laxity, which occurs when your ligaments are no longer intact. The danger of repeatedly rounding your back in one spot is that it creates ligament laxity. You really do not want your back to be curved. You want to maintain a straight spine with strong ligaments.
Yoga allows us to tap into the space between our thoughts, into our quiet mind and our awareness. It helps us gain perspective that stress is a choice — I can react with ease or I can react with stress and anxiety. Yoga helps us create some distance from our reactions.
Asanas or exercises to help undo the damage.
Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward-Facing Dog
Tadasana/Palm Tree Pose
Uttanasana/Standing Forward Bend
Marjaryasana & Bitilasana/Cat & Cow Pose
Baddha Konasana/Bound Angle Pose
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana/Half Pigeon Pose
Balasana/Ananda Balasana/Child Pose
Sitali Pran/Slow Breathing
Here are some important guidelines to help make sure your work area is as comfortable as possible and causes the least amount of stress to your spine:
Begin by sitting comfortably as close as possible to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel to your spine. Rest your hands on your work surface (e.g. desktop, computer keyboard). If your elbows are not at a 90-degree angle, move your chair either up or down.
Check that you can easily slide your fingers under your thigh at the leading edge of the chair. If it is too tight, you need to prop your feet up with an adjustable footrest. If there is more than a finger width between your thigh and the chair, you need to raise the desk/work surface so that you can raise your chair.
With your buttocks against the chair back, try to pass your clenched fist between the back of your calf and the front of your chair. If you can’t do that easily, the chair is too deep. You will need to adjust the backrest forward, insert a lumbar support or get a new chair.
Your buttocks should be pressed against the back of your chair, and there should be a cushion that causes your lower back to arch slightly so that you don’t slump forward as you tire. This support is essential to minimize the load (strain) on your back. Never slump or slouch in your chair, as this places extra stress on your spine and lumbar discs.
Close your eyes while sitting comfortably with your head facing forward. Slowly open your eyes. Your gaze should be aimed at the center of your computer screen. If your computer screen is higher or lower than your gaze, you need to either raise or lower it. If you wear bifocal glasses, you should adjust the computer screen so that you do not have to tilt your neck back to read the screen, or else wear full lens glasses adjusted for near vision.
Adjust the armrest of your chair so that it just slightly lifts your arms at the shoulders. Use of an armrest allows you to take some of the strain off your neck and shoulders, and it should make you less likely to slouch forward in your chair.