Will You Stand Up to a Sitting World?
There is absolutely no getting away from it: the more you sit, the worse your health will be and the earlier you may die (regardless of how fit think you are).
Sitting is now considered worse for your health than smoking and research shows that the 45 minutes of high intensity exercise you do daily won’t protect you from its effects. The World Health Organization ranks physical inactivity – sitting too much – as the fourth biggest preventable killer globally, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths annually.
What can you do? The answer is surprisingly simple – unless you are asleep; you better keep moving. Genetically speaking, the human body evolved a central nervous system that requires movement to function correctly. For over 200,000 years, Homo Sapiens spent the majority of the day moving. If they wanted food, they had to move to get it. If they wanted to travel, they had to get there by foot. All that movement may seem exhausting to most; but it was part of our everyday life and helped to shape and mold the body’s we all have the potential to have today. Our bodies were built for movement, our brains feed off of it and in turn this movement keeps us healthy.
But you sit at breakfast. You sit on your way to work. You sit at work. You sit in front of a computer screen. You sit while eating dinner and you slouch over your phone randomly throughout the day. You sit while watching TV and then you get up and do it all over again the next day.
All this sitting is increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even depression—to the point where experts have labeled this modern-day health epidemic the “sitting disease.” Worse, a growing body of evidence now shows that people who spend hours exercising are not protected from the effects of sitting the same way they are not protected if they choose to smoke.
In a 2012 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours of non-exercise walking, whether or not they exercised the recommended 150 minutes a week. That’s more than nine hours a day of sitting, no matter how active they otherwise were.
“We were very surprised that even the highest level of exercise did not matter squat for reducing the time spent sitting,” says study author Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., professor and director of the inactivity physiology department at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. In fact, regular exercisers may make less of an effort to move outside their designated workout time. Research presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine from Illinois State University reports that people are about 30 percent less active overall on days when they exercise versus days they don’t hit the road or the gym. Maybe they think they’ve worked out enough for one day.
Adding to the mounting evidence, Hamilton recently discovered that a key gene (called lipid phosphate phosphatase-1 or LPP1) that helps prevent blood clotting and inflammation to keep your cardiovascular system healthy is significantly suppressed when you sit for a few hours. “The shocker was that LPP1 was not impacted by exercise if the muscles were inactive most of the day,” Hamilton says. “Pretty scary to say that LPP1 is sensitive to sitting but resistant to exercise.” Heart disease and diabetes aren’t the only health hazards active couch potatoes face.
The American Institute for Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting with increased risk of both breast and colon cancers. “Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right,” says Neville Owen, Ph.D., head of the Behavioral Epidemiology Laboratory at Australia’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. “Emerging evidence suggests that the longer you sit, the higher your risk. It also seems that exercising won’t compensate for too much sitting.” According to Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada, inactivity is linked to 49,000 cases of breast cancer, 43,000 cases of colon cancer, 37,200 cases of lung cancer, and 30,600 cases of prostate cancer a year. As if that weren’t enough to put you in a sad state, a 2013 survey of nearly 30,000 women found that those who sat nine or more hours a day were more likely to be depressed than those who sat fewer than six hours a day because prolonged sitting reduces circulation, causing fewer feel good hormones to reach your brain.
Scared straight out of your chair? Good.
Because the remedy is as simple as:
- Move more
- Move well
- Perform basic maintenance on your body everyday
Obviously as your chiropractor I am here to make sure that your spine is moving properly. This is one advantage that you have over those people who are not fortunate enough to get chiropractic adjustments. Like it or not, we all have a spine that gets damaged from life and failure to maintain the health of your spine will be a limiting factor behind movement. So the first step to “Moving More” is making sure that your spine allows this movement.
When we force our bodies into positions they were not designed to adopt, ugly things begin to happen to the human spine. The human body was designed to stabilize the spine under normal working conditions, but normal working conditions have dramatically changed since the time of our ancestors. What you need to understand here is that your spine is always searching for stability. When you fail to organize your spine properly, the bones that make up your spinal column will default to a second tier reactionary stabilization pattern that ends up limiting your range of motion, causing spine stiffness and making your muscles work harder than normal.
On top of working towards better spine alignment, you should look for ways to eliminate sitting from your day. Switch to a standing work desk or throw a few boxes underneath your computer screen and work while standing up. Look for ways to eliminate sitting from your leisure time. I’m not telling you to stand while you eat dinner, but sitting on the ground is better while watchin TV than your couch. As a general rule, for every 30 minutes you are chained to a chair, spend 2 minutes moving or recovering. This movement or recovery doesn’t have to be anything major – just get up and walk around, get some water, do some jumping jacks or arm swings and your’re good to go!
Learning how to have good posture or move properly does not take a long time; most people pick it up in 10 minutes. The hard part is making a habit of it. But just like you were not a good driver when you first started, the same is true with learning how to get your body in a good position. This part of the process has to be a daily exercise and constantly on your mind. What’s the point of only working on your body when you are the gym only to throw it all away from poor decisions outside of it? The same is true with body mechanics, posture and knowing how to move. When you look at “Moving Well” as a form of nutrition for your body, then you can begin to understand how it’s an all-day thing, just like drinking water and breathing oxygen.
Perform Daily Maintenance
There are literally no day’s off when it comes to performing daily maintenance on myself. The same should be true for you. “Daily Maintenance” in this case refers to mobility techniques designed to resolve pain, improve range of motion and restore the elasticity of your muscles. This is not simply stretching or foam rolling your body. Most people know how to get into classic stretching positions and foam roll. The problem is that people don’t have a system for understanding how and when to perform these techniques and why.