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Sitting: The Silent Killer

As a society, we will find ourselves sitting more often than not. Rarely do we find the time to get up from our workstation to stretch, take a short walk, or move around. It has become ingrained in our culture to spend countless hours in front of a computer screen finishing our work or sitting in front of our TV binge watching our favorite shows/movies. Most of us do not give this a second thought. We chalk it up as “part of daily living”. Of course, we all need rest, too, which includes more than sleeping. For students and people who work in an office environment, prolonged sitting is the norm – sometimes a requirement! But it can cause problems, too.

The Dangers of Sitting for Long Periods

Some have described sitting as the new smoking. This is because the sedentary nature of sitting or lying down too long can lead to chronic physical and mental health problems.


Your heart, digestive system, and musculoskeletal system do not function adequately in lengthy sitting or lying positions. This leads to back and joint pain, decreased musculature, strength, flexibility, and overall body rigidity. Extended sitting has also been known to contribute to excessive weight gain, decreased hip and back support, joint weakness, and even diabetes and mental health disorders.


Low Back Pain & Changes to the Spine:

  • Places significant stress on spinal structures

  • Also shoulders and hips while assuming poor posture

  • While slouching our neck protrudes forward, leading to postural misalignment.

  • Prolonged sitting promotes global deconditioning, muscle fatigue, weakened core stabilizers, and shortens your hip flexors

  • Leading to increased stress on your low back

  • Reduction in spine flexibility.

  • Prolonged sitting can lead to weakening of the bones (osteopenia/osteoporosis).

Heart Disease:

  • If you lack physical activity, then you are potentially setting yourself up for cardiovascular disease (the leading cause of death in men and women)

  • Sitting for long periods of time impacts things like sugar regulation and blood pressure

  • It alters the normal function of blood vessels

  • Increases diabetes and heart attacks

Vascular Problems:

  • If you do not move throughout the day blood and fluid will begin to pool in your lower legs. This will cause achiness, swelling, and feelings of fatigue

  • When blood does not circulate and pools, this places us at risk for blood clots (Deep Vein Thrombosis) which can travel to our lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism or worse, death.

Obesity and Weight Gain:

  • Current research shows a strong association between prolonged sitting and weight gain. Moreover, this weight gain firmly has ties to the onset of diabetes.

  • When we sitting for a long period, we are not burning as many calories

  • Furthermore, we are eating more at our desk or in front of the television.

  • This behavior can lead to a larger waist-line and a much higher BMI.

While we all need to sit and rest during parts of the day, it’s important not to do so longer than we need to. Fatigue and poor posture can occur every 15 minutes, so it’s important to take breaks to move and stretch. If you’ve been sitting for over an hour, it’s time to get up and move.


So... what should I do?!


If you’re not getting enough activity in your day, it’s not too late to change that behavior and transition to a more healthy approach to life.


The Benefits of Standing and Moving

The simple fact is our bodies function better when we are upright and moving, and it’s never too late to incorporate more movement or exercise into your daily routine.

For as many health dangers that can arise from prolonged sitting, an equal number of benefits exist from getting up and moving. Standing and increasing movement will help improve posture, burn calories, reduce strain on your back and joints, and keep your body in a more fluid, circulative state.


Taking breaks from sitting improves circulation by reducing the swelling in your legs, it also improves your postural positioning, which means less stress on your joints and a reduction in muscle strains.


There are many simple ways to incorporate more movement into your life right now:

  • Walking more throughout the day

  • Taking stairs instead of elevators

  • Biking instead of short car rides

  • Waking up earlier to stretch, walk, and or jog


Stand up and walk around during commercials

  • Do daily chores in small batches

  • Get an ergonomic desk so you can do your work while standing

Any of these simple things are a great way to bring more movements into your day so that you’re seated less, thus reducing the risk of health problems.


Here are some recommendations to get you more active:

Outside of work:

  • If your work or destination is close, try walking or cycling.

  • Use the stairs in place of automation (escalator/elevator)

  • Park your vehicle farther away from the entrance to get in more steps.

  • If you take public transportation, get off one stop from your destination and walk the remaining distance.

Be active while at work:

  • You can move around at work more than you think:

  • Take the stairs.

  • Take a walk down the hall to talk to a colleague instead of sending that email.

  • Get away from the office during your breaks and go for a short walk.

There are so many more things you can do to stay active, though this small list will get you started. Please remember, if you are newer to physical activity, or if you have an underlying health condition, speak to your local physical therapist before you get going. They can help you decide how to safely choose the best activities.


Simple Office Stretches to Improve Mobility

Let’s face it, we spend hours hunched over at our desk staring at our computers, in the chair browsing our smartphones, and in traffic over our steering wheels. All of this takes a toll on our back, hips, neck, and shoulders. With how busy we are, it feels that it is not always easy to find the time to do something about our aches. What if I were to tell you that you can reduce those aches and pains in the comfort of your office chair? Follow these simple stretches and movements throughout the day and you will be AMAZED with how good you feel!


1. Seated piriformis stretch: 1 set for a 20-30 second hold for each leg

Setup: Begin sitting upright in a chair.

Movement: Lift one foot and rest it on your opposite knee. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch along the underside of your thigh. Hold this position.

Tip: Make sure to keep your back straight as you bend forward.


2. Seated forward bend: 1 set for 10 repetitions

Setup: Begin sitting upright.

Movement: Curl your body forward toward the floor as far as you can, then return to the starting position and repeat.

Tip: Make sure to keep your movements slow and controlled.


3. Seated hamstring stretch: 1 set with a 20-30 second hold for each leg

Setup: Begin sitting upright with one leg straight forward and your heel resting on the ground.

Movement: Bend your trunk forward, hinging at your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold this position.

Tip: Make sure to keep your knee straight during the stretch and do not let your back arch or slump.


4. Side bending neck: 1 set of 10 repetitions each way

Setup: Begin sitting in an upright position

Movement: Tilt your head sideways, pulling your ear toward one shoulder, then return to the starting position and repeat toward the other side.

Tip: Make sure to keep your back straight and do not let your head rotate, or bend forward or backward.


5. Look up and down: 1 set of 10 repetitions each way

Setup: Begin in a seated position looking straight forward.

Movement: Tuck your chin, then bend your neck backward and forward. Try to only move at the very top of the vertebrae of your neck.

Tip: Make sure to keep your back straight and only move your head during the exercise.


6. Neck rotation: 1 set of 10 repetitions each way

Setup: Begin sitting in an upright position.

Movement: Turn your head to look over one shoulder, then return to the starting position and repeat to the other side.

Tip: Make sure to keep your back straight and do not bend your head forward, backward, or sideways.


7. Shoulder stretch: 1 set of 20-30 second holds for each arm

Setup: Begin sitting upright in a chair.

Movement

Raise one arm across your body, then use the back of your wrist to gently press your elbow closer to your chest until you feel a light stretch behind your arm.

Tip: Make sure to avoid using too much pressure during the stretch and do not shrug your shoulders.


8. Hands behind head pec stretch: 1 set with a 20-30 second hold

Setup: Begin sitting upright with your hands clasped behind your neck.

Movement

Pull your elbows apart and backward until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Hold, then relax and repeat.

Tip: Make sure to maintain an upright posture and do not shrug your shoulders during the stretch.


9. Seated wrist flexion stretch: 1 set for 20-30 seconds

Setup: Begin sitting upright in a chair.

Movement: Lift your arm straight in front of you with your palm facing down, then gently press on the back of your hand down and toward your arm. Hold this position. You should feel a stretch on the top of your forearm.

Tip: Make sure not to apply too much pressure during the exercise, this should be a gentle stretch.


10. Wrist Extension: 1 set for 20-30 seconds

Setup: Begin sitting upright in a chair.

Movement: Lift your arm straight in front of you with your palm up, then gently press your palm down and back toward your arm. Hold this position. You should feel a stretch on the bottom of your forearm.

Tip: Make sure not to apply too much pressure during the exercise, this should be a gentle stretch.


There are so many more great ways to stretch and move while in the office in order to help keep your muscles loose, body relaxed, and your work-day fresh. Give these recommendations a go for when you are stuck at the desk and remember, our bodies MUST move. If you have been sitting for 30 minutes, get moving! Also, remember to get up and go for a short walk to maintain healthy circulation, reduce swelling, and of course, fend off those aches and pains.



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