It is no secret that we live in a very sedentary society. While there are still a handful of people out there working on their feet and busting their ass to make a living, most of us sit on our fat keisters for 8+ hours a day, staring into the same glowing rectangle you are looking at to read this.
And while we all know that it is better to be moving around for the obvious reasons (burning fat, gaining muscle, release of endorphins), sitting for long periods of time can do much more than turn you into a sack of pudding. It could actually make you sick. The truth is you need to sit smarter to live longer. If not you will get sick.
Sick how? Well, for starters:
Our bodies were designed to be up and moving around, not bent into a weird L shape for hours on end. As such, sitting for long periods can do lasting damage to our skeletons. People who sit all day at work and then on the sofa at home notice a much higher rate of neck, back, and leg problems.
People who stare at a computer screen all day often have to lean forward, craning their neck into an unnatural position and doing permanent damage to those vertebrae. And, where the neck ends, the shoulder and back problems begin.
Did you know that in between each vertebrae is a soft cushion to keep the bones from rubbing against each other? Well those cushions need blood and nutrients to stay cushiony. And how do they get that? By moving! And if you don’t move, not only to the nutrients not get to the cushions, but they also get pressed into weird, unnatural shapes due to the strain of holding a single position for hours. This is why you see so many elderly people with spines that look like question marks.
And, as for legs, the less you move, the weaker your circulation. Weak circulation to the legs can result in cosmetic issues like varicose veins to performance issues like swollen ankles or a deep vein thrombosis. All problems that could be avoided by sitting smarter.
But now for the real ailments:
The longer you sit, the less your body burns calories. Also, your blood flow slows down, allowing for buildup in your arteries. All of this leads to an elevated risk of heart disease. Pretty basic stuff.
But what about something a little less basic? Like…
The longer you sit, the less responsive your muscles become to insulin (the stuff your pancreas makes to carry glucose to your cells for energy). That is because your muscles aren’t active, so when the insulin gets to them, they’re all like “uhhh what do we need this for?” And what is your bodies response to that? Make more insulin!
So now you are all jacked full of too much insulin, stimulating cell growth in muscles and tissues that don’t know what to do with it. And what can happen when you have a bunch of unnecessary cell growth and reproduction? Mutated cells (aka cancer).
Also, moving is thought to boost antioxidants which kill free radicals, which are known to mutate cells. This isn’t to say that you’ll get cancer from sitting, just that it doesn’t help.
But how can you fix it?
Well, aside from simply standing up and walking around every few minutes, there are other steps you can take (pun intended).
Stretch every morning
Coming up with a good routine to help prepare your limbs for another day of movement is always a good idea. To specifically avoid the pitfalls of sitting, focus on your hip flexors, and try to do some light yoga (cow pose to cat pose is great for your back).
Walk around during breaks
Just finished an assignment? God done with a long conference call? Commercial break? Get up off your butt and walk around for a few minutes. Once an hour you should be up out of your chair and moving around for at least five minutes.
Sit on an Exercise Ball
We’ve all seen those weird chairs that look like they belong in a playground – the exercise ball strapped into a backless base. What are those for? Keeping you from sitting your ass to death, is what. These chairs help you sit up straight with your feet on the floor, so you can’t slouch back into your chair and mangle your spine. So, if you can get over being the guy in the office sitting on an inflated ball, your back will surely thank you.
Lastly, work out more. This one is pretty simple. Just go to the gym, or run around the block a few times. Anything to get the blood pumping. The problem isn’t the chair, it’s the fact that you are sitting and not doing anything for hours on end. So just do something. Simple, right?