Written by Kathryn Anderson

The Dangers of Sitting All Day and How to Protect Your Health

We are at a crisis point in our society and individually. Our lifestyles have changed so much in the past 50 years that our bodies are not able to keep up with our economic evolution.

We need to think seriously about chairs……

The Evolution of Sitting

Chairs have evolved to be more comfortable and ergonomic to allow us to sit for long periods of time, however, our bodies have not evolved to sit for prolonged periods.

As technology has become integral to many of modern society, our sitting time has dramatically increased compared to that of our parents and grandparents.

The research is mounting and the statistics prove that our health is suffering from being bound to a chair.

Sometimes sitting becomes second nature and we may not even realise that we are being glued down by our seats.

Consider a typical office worker and how much of their waking hours involve sitting from the moment they wake up and until they are in bed.

Here is an example of such a pie chart with someone who works a typical 40 hour week at the office.

With our example pie chart, it demonstrates approximately 70% of the waking day sitting, but some of us may need to commute longer, work longer hours, or spend a bit more extra time winding down in the evening.

What is all the Hype about the Dangers of Sitting?

There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about the benefits of standing more during the day, with the potential health risks associated with sitting for 6-8 hours each day deemed to be the “new smoking”.

If you sit for 7 hours a day or more, you are are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and are 13% more likely to develop cancer.

Recent research has even likened the dangers of sitting to that of smoking.

Even after you have adjusted the data for additional moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, you still have an increased risk of these adverse health outcomes.

These are the grim facts of sitting and we need to focus on developing strategies to reduce our sitting time to improve our health.

These benefits extend beyond the musculoskeletal goals of reducing stiffness and load through the lower back and neck in particular, including increased energy metabolism, increased productivity, and benefits for cardiovascular health, all of which can help to reduce the obesity epidemic that Australia is facing.

A recent study published in the UK recommends that office workers spend at least two hours a day on their feet, building up to four hours.

Individuals who sit for the majority of their day (often 65-75% of working hours) are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and are 13% more likely to develop cancer.

Although some tasks such as handwriting or drawing may be easier whilst sitting, tasks such as reading and responding to emails, reading reference material and having face to face meetings can be efficiently performed in standing.

What are 4 Easy Things I Can Do About It?

1. Get your steps up in your everyday life.

Just the process of moving your muscles increases blood flow and gets endorphins flowing.

There is so much available to read about the “best forms of exercise to lose weight” or the “best form of exercise to cross-train” but if we change our attitude from our workout being something that has to be inserted into a weekly timetable towards incorporating incidental movement or exercise into our day, health becomes an overall state of mind rather than something that emotes the image of lugging a gym bag in the dark at 6am.

The attitude permeates your overall lifestyle and your body will feel fitter, stronger and lighter.

Park the car one station earlier and walk the extra 15 minutes, pick your kids up from school on foot or start to ride your bike to work. Not only will your physical-self appreciate these small changes, your mental health will improve too.

2. Think about how your job can involve movement.

Look at your weekly schedule in your current role and think about how more movement can be built in as part of it.

Could you schedule your weekly team meeting at a cafe 1-2 blocks away?

Could you purposefully book a meeting room on another floor so that you have to take the stairs?

Or could you don your runners and have meetings with certain colleagues while walking along Birra Rung Mar?

Even the most sedentary job can be shaken up with a few strategic changes.

More and more people are adopting the idea of “active coffee meetings” where rather than sit for 30min over coffee discussing their “corporate takeover”, they are opting to walk a few blocks of the city with a take-away coffee whilst discussing the strategies for this latest business venture.

Not only will your organs thank you for it, but you will be more likely to tap into your creative side by being upright and moving.

3. Get a Stand Up Desk

OK, so not all of us can throw in the towel and become a yoga instructor but if a career change is not on the agenda, consider a standing desk.

We have one at Viva which came from Varidesk which was relatively inexpensive, portable and super handy. You’re very welcome to arrange a time with our receptionists to drop by and have a go.

Many companies are funding standing desks now for their employees, but I would even urge you to consider taking on the $500-$600 investment yourself for one of the varieties that sits on top of an existing desk.

You might even start a trend in your office as an early adopter.

4. Learn how to sit actively

OK, it doesn’t bring you into a weight-bearing position, but there are lots of things you can do to learn how to sit actively.

Book our ‘Improve your stamina for desk work‘ workshop.

How do I use a stand up desk?

A work set-up that is adjustable between sitting and standing is optimal, especially in the early days as it takes time to build the endurance to stand for longer periods.

However, just because you’re standing doesn’t mean you might not feel back pain – posture is just as important when standing for prolonged periods.

If you wear high heels, take them off while using your standing desk, as this will likely tilt the pelvis forwards, increasing the curve (lordosis) of your lower back, as well as shortening your calf muscles and placing unnecessary stress on the forefoot.

For men and women, it is important to have the weight even under both feet, knees soft (not locked back) and maintain the “S” shape curve of the spine with shoulders over the hips, not swaying backwards.

If you want advice on how to stand in a way that is best for your spine, we can show you how in a 30 minute consultation.

A friend of Viva Physiotherapy, Dr Christina Ekegren is a physiotherapist working in research at the Alfred Hospital who has been utilising an adjustable desk over the past year, with fellow PhD students soon requesting the same set up after seeing and hearing of the benefits she experienced.

Christina had this to say about her experience:

“The versatility of the desks means that you are basically moving more throughout the day and much less likely to sit in a potentially harmful position for long periods. I have noticed a big improvement with my neck and shoulder pain too. Having your lower back in better alignment has a big flow on effect into your upper back and neck. In short, we all LOVE them and couldn’t imagine having to go back to the bad old days of sitting all day!

I’d recommend that when you first start to use a standing desk that you aim for 15-20min standing, then “rest” by sitting for the remainder of that hour. Gradually you’ll be able to build up to longer periods of standing. You may also find that you spend more time standing in the morning when you have more energy, with shorter bursts in the afternoon.”

Are there other risks to sitting too much?

From a medical perspective, research has shown sitting to increase the rate of cancer and other chronic diseases but from a physio perspective, the results are much more instant.

Do you know if we see a client who has had a heavy desk-based week, we can often see a noticeable decrease in the range of rotation of their neck and upper back?

Hip flexors are really commonly affected by sitting as you can imagine the shortened position they adopt in sitting can stiffen them up considerably. This then poses a problem if the “sitter” then wants to run or do other upright activity that requires lengthened or loose hip flexors.

We can do retraining work with you to teach you how to sit in a good position, using your core muscles, but we wouldn’t expect any muscle in the body to hold a static position for 8 hours per day. So therefore, try not to sit so much!

Avoid serious damage to your health and start sitting at your desk better.

We hope you’re standing now 😉


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