Research shows that those people who remain seated for more than 11 hours have a 40% higher risk of failing health or dying than people who do not, whether physically inactive or not. Movement is a vital nutrient for health. Considering your levels of stress, increasing workload at your desk and the amount of exercise you do, this can be a frightening statistic. So can you avoid this risk?
Let’s Start at the Beginning
A sedentary lifestyle is rewarded and cultivated in our society from a young age, says Adele Pudney, a physiotherapist at ADK Physio & Hydrotherapy. Babies are often over-protected to the point that it lowers their natural, necessary exploration of the environment, she says. ‘When they grow up, at school they’re forced to sit for long hours behind a desk. Now add to this poor alignment and ergonomics and these little bodies grow into the patterns adopted for extended periods, which don’t have good health outcomes. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week in the face of the statistic that adults typically spend 90% of their time sitting down.
Sitting on Health Problems
Obesity, high blood pressure, excess body fat, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, abnormal cholesterol levels, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and even depression are just some of the health problems that arise from a sedentary lifestyle. People take their access to information and education for granted and have a lack of commitment to their health. They can only control that which is in their ability, such as ensuring a healthy diet, adequate exercise, not smoking and avoiding alcohol.
Australian research shows that the average office worker only spends 73 minutes of their daily life walking – not sitting – and so in 73 minutes, all cooking and any exercise is done, says Dr. Greg Venning, author, and chiropractor at Peak Chiropractic in Cape Town. “We are genetically wired to love movement. It triggers the reward pathways deep in our brain and should make us want to move more, but modern sedentary living disconnects us from that primal joy. Body movement, especially the spine, acts like a windmill that generates stimulation and energy for the brain, and every moment we spend sitting, we’re robbed of that stimulation,” he says.
Hit Pause – And Move!
A central problem is the structural damage that sitting causes, leading to organ dysfunction, nerve damage, muscle tightness, pain, fatigue and a host of problems, says Dr. Venning. “Getting your body moving again will limit future harm, but there’ll be some damage that your body cannot undo on its own. You can get a good idea of that damage by testing your relaxed posture,” he says. “If you slump, then there are problems that need to be assessed and addressed. Your body should hold you up effortlessly, and you shouldn’t need to hold your body up.”
Physiotherapists suggest simple changes to interrupt long periods of sitting, which can make all the difference.
• Set an alarm for every 30 minutes to move for two to five minutes. March on the spot, walm and stretch your neck, lower back and shoulders out of the slouch position.
• While sitting or standing, maintain a good posture.
• Exercise regularly: 30 minutes, five times a week.
• Take stairs, walk to colleagues instead of emailing, walk to get files, have walking meetings, stand while reading, park further away from the office.
• Have two work stations – for sitting and standing – and do different aspects of your job at these.
• Don’t fast-forward TV ads, exercise while they are on!