The human body, designed for movement, is suffering the consequences of our modern, sedentary lifestyle. A recent study from the American Heart Association indicates that U.S. adults, on average, spend 6 to 8 hours sitting every day, with a whopping 25% of American adults admitting that their hours of sitting actually surpasses 8+ hours each day.
While most people blame "desk jobs" for their immobility, it's not just the full-time grind that's keeping us inactive. Beyond extended stretches spent in front of our workplace computers, many also report spending additional daily hours at home binge-watching TV, gaming, and surfing the web. All this, combined with time spent eating, lounging, and sleeping, has many Americans topping out at over 21 sedentary hours a day – bringing our "bodies at rest" tendencies to entirely new heights, with potentially significant and dire consequences.
Prolonged Sitting Can Have A Significant, Harmful Impact On Our Holistic Health
Likened to the "new smoking," prolonged sitting can ignite a chain reaction of negative health conditions across multiple physiological and neurological functions, such as:
- Heart disease
- Muscular disorders
- Poor circulation
- Weight gain
- Varicose veins
Prolonged sitting has even been linked to an increase in cancer and spikes in anxiety, placing heightened focus throughout the scientific and medical community to study and learn more about the total influence our sedentary lifestyle can have on holistic wellness as well as proper steps needed to counteract its short and long-term impact.
How Sitting Can Damage The Spine
Spending too much time in your chair (or on your couch) can also harm musculoskeletal conditioning, particularly when it comes to spinal health. Most people assume that sitting throughout the day is both a relaxing and low impact way to spend our time. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Extended durations of inactivity, while not physically exerting, still put significant stress on a patient's back and neck (approximately 40% more pressure than standing), leaving the spine sore, stiff, misaligned, and at risk for several acute and/or chronic issues, including:
When we keep our bodies in motion, the soft discs between each spinal vertebra contract and expand, absorbing the impact of movement as well as soaking up essential nutrients and blood needed to stay healthy. Sitting for long periods can unevenly compress these soft discs, forcing the collagen around the surrounding tendons and ligaments to harden. In a typical "move it or lose it" scenario, our slowly deteriorating spine becomes less flexible, leaving our backs highly susceptible to severe damage when performing even the simplest and most mundane of our daily tasks.
People who sit for long stretches of time (and in the wrong position) can put an enormous amount of pressure on their lumbar discs. Over time, this force can eventually alter the shape of the spine, changing it from its normal S-shape to more of a C-shape. The evolving spine configuration further increases pressure on the lumbar disc wall, and could eventually lead to disc damage including bulges, herniations and potentially degenerative disc disease.
Lower Back Pain
Poor posture while sitting can contribute to the long-term contraction and ultimate shortening of lumbar muscles, eventually leading to varying degrees of lower back discomfort, tightness, and pain. Note: Many people attempt to counteract "bad" posture with "military posture," where they sit as straight as possible, elevating their chest, shoulders, and neck. Unfortunately, this too can have negative consequences. Continuous hours sitting in this exaggerated position can exert and overextend the muscles in the lower back, potentially leading to relentless aching, throbbing, and burning.
Finally, even if sitting doesn't directly cause a spinal ailment, it can exacerbate an already existing spinal condition, intensifying the pain with lasting, potentially permanent, consequences.
Fighting Sitting Disease: Tips To Make Standing And Moving A Top Priority
Fortunately, there are several ways for patients to offset the effects of ceaseless sitting. For people with a desk job, it's essential to make movement a priority throughout the day. A few tips to up physical activity while at work may include:
Consider investing in a sit/stand office desk, or try to finish some work each day standing at a high top table surface. If that's not feasible, set a goal to at least stand every time you take a phone call to break the vicious sitting cycle.
Plan A Stretch Break
Whenever possible, take a stretch break every 30 minutes throughout your day to maintain flexibility and promote circulation, both in your spine as well as other areas of the body.
Skip the conference room (where everyone essentially exchanges one office seat for another); next time you have a company meeting, invite your colleagues outside for a walk where you can collaborate and get in some extra steps. Can't convince everyone to join the mobile meeting? Get up and go for a quick lap yourself several times a day to know you're reaping the rewards of moving.
Be The Snail Mail
Don't rely on emails to carry your messages throughout your organization. Whenever possible, get up and walk over to your co-worker's desk to deliver your message in person.
Slightly Extend Commute Time
Park as far away as you can in the employee parking lot and always take the stairs whenever possible. Yes, you'll slightly extend your commute time, but the positive impact of even a few minutes of activity makes it worth it.
Prioritize Proper Posture
If you can't avoid sitting in your chair, make proper posture a priority to help fight off the damage caused by too much sitting. Some vital tips may include:
- Customize the workspace, using items such as backrests, wrist pads, and under-desk footrests
- Place your monitor no higher than two inches above your natural sight line
- Consider using an ergonomic chair or yoga ball while at your workstation
- Use a headset or your phone's speaker function for calls
- Place the keyboard and mouse close together to eliminate extensive reaching
As with any physical condition, the best way to counteract the symptoms and conditions ignited from a sedentary lifestyle is to consult with a qualified physician.
Florida Pain Relief Centers specializes in individualized pain management solutions that reduce chronic and acute pain to improve our patients' overall quality of life. Contact us to consult with one of our board-certified, fellowship-trained pain relief clinicians today.