Our modern society and the advancements of technology have led most of us towards a more sedentary lifestyle. Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, the majority of the population were getting up out of bed, walking to the lounge room/study/kitchen table, sitting for 8-10 hours to work and then migrating to the couch, sitting for a few hours to wind down and watch TV before we hopped back into bed to repeat the cycle the next day.
If you were motivated enough, you may have squeezed in an hour of walking/running or done some physical activity in the comfort of your home. Unfortunately, when we were in lockdown, we did not have much of a choice but to live this sedentary lifestyle. Now that life has returned to somewhat normal (for the time being), let’s talk about what you can do and what habits you can change to help reduce the negative impact of all this sitting.
Let’s face it, some of us are required to sit for prolonged periods of time due to the nature of our work. It is what you do with the time when you are not sitting that is most important.
Sitting for hours on end, causes certain structures in our body to become de-conditioned to the demands of life. The joints around our hips, pelvis and spine become compressed and stiff which impairs the motion available at these joints.
Muscles that do not get activated regularly, become dormant. This causes easy tasks such as standing or walking to feel very strenuous. Every time you stand up from your desk and move around, muscles become activated, which in the long run, makes daily tasks easier to perform, because your body is operating more efficiently. When you use your muscles, they take in sugar and fat molecules from your bloodstream to use as energy, which reduces the risk of heart disease, weight gain and diabetes.
The time we sit for and the posture we sit in, are two major factors to consider. Most of us tend to fall into a slumped forward posture when sitting. This places strain through the structures of the spine, such as your intervertebral discs, muscles, joints and ligaments.
Your hip flexor muscles become shortened and tight and your gluteal muscles and hamstrings become stretched and deconditioned. Your core begins to weaken as it is not being used as much, which predisposes your back to injury.
Sitting in a slouched posture also has an effect on your breathing. To breathe properly, the abdominal and pelvic diaphragm should be in sync, but when we sit, the pressure from gravity inhibits this from happening. This causes people to breathe shallow breaths which reduces the amount of oxygen entering the body.
If you are someone that sits uninterrupted for long periods of time, it might be time to change your habits. The easiest way to introduce positive habits is to start off with small changes that you find easy to work into your routine and build your way up to bigger changes.
An easy habit to introduce is to set a timer for 30 minutes to remind you to get up and move around for 2 minutes. It may not seem like much but if you are someone who is sitting for 8 hours a day, this regular movement helps keep your muscles switched on and burns energy that would not be burnt if you were sitting.
Using a standing desk is another easy way to change your habits. A standing desk does not mean you have to stand up all day, but you should be able to regularly change from sitting to standing to help keep your body moving at the desk. This works on a similar principle to getting up every 30 minutes to move around.
The most beneficial change to make to your routine would to be to exercise before, after or during work. Regular exercise has been proven to benefit physical health, mental health and productivity levels. Exercise increases the resilience of your body to be able to cope with the demands of everyday life. The more you exercise, the less of a problem sitting becomes.
Most importantly, we need to be mindful of how we are treating our body’s. If you are sitting for a prolonged period of time and you start to feel an increase in tension, notice this tension, get up, move around, have a stretch or go and get a drink of water. This will go a long way in keeping aches and pains away.
If you are suffering from issues associated with sitting, the Osteopath’s at Ascot Vale Osteopathy can help reduce your symptoms and provide education to help you live a healthier lifestyle.
Dr. Tim Roberts (Osteopath)
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