Work work work work work. Yup, that's Rihanna singing to you. Chances are, you spend hours sitting for work. Even when you leave the office you can't wait to sit on your comfortable couch to relax. Did you know that long periods of sitting is associated with decreased brain function and increased anxiety, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess belly fat, and risk of death from heart disease and cancer? While these health factors are associated with prolonged sitting, a causal relationship has not been proven and as a result, nor has a statistically significant solution for prevention and maintenance. WebMD and the Mayo Clinic have posted articles stating that while regular exercise has many benefits, it has not been proven to undo the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Prolonged sitting and standing are both harmful to one's health, creating a need to find a balance between the two. For people who spend more time sitting, experts suggest standing more often and increasing overall movement throughout the day as a helpful tip to combat mental and physiological health problems associated with sitting.
When we sit, not only are we physiologically and mentally affected, but we also create muscular imbalances that affect our posture. Good posture is a function of proper alignment and balanced musculature. When we have good posture, we can move more efficiently, less painfully, and reduce our risk for movement-related injuries. In my work as a Pilates-based personal trainer, I have witnessed clients experience and exude more confidence, capability, and stability as a result of shifting into good posture. Our minds and bodies work together to create our future.
Common postural effects from prolonged sitting and computer work are: shortened hamstrings, hip flexors, abdominals, pectorals (chest), and cervical (neck) extensors. Additionally, lengthened muscles are the gluteals, low back, upper back, and front of the neck. This produces a slouched and hunched posture (think Gollum from Lord of the Rings) that I have witnessed accompanies a mindset of submission, apathy, resignation, and powerlessness. When our muscles are not at their optimal lengths (shortened or lengthened), they are weak and cannot be used to their full potential to support our bones in a balanced manner.
So while exercise may not be scientifically associated with reducing the negative physiological and mental health impacts of sitting, at the very least, it can alleviate physical postural imbalances that will make it easier for us to achieve increased pain-free standing and movement.
Here are several simple solutions to combat the effects of sitting:
Stand up! Yes, it's as simple as that. Set an alarm every half-hour or hour to remind you to stand up and walk a lap around the office before returning to sitting desk work.
Practice good posture while sitting to burn more calories and improve muscular balance. Place each foot flat and firmly on the floor, keep the weight even on both of your "sits" bones (ischial tuberosities), keep your pelvic bowl directly upright (don't spill the soup out of the bowl), pull your navel to your spine, float your ribs vertically upward (not anteriorly), drop your shoulder blades down to your hips and stack your head over your shoulders so the bottom tips of your earlobes are directly over the center of your shoulders from the side view. Set your computer screen at eye level and your keyboard at a level where your elbows are bent at 90 degree angles.
Roll, stretch, and strengthen your entire body. Rolling is a method of myofascial release that relaxes tension, improves flexibility, and promotes movement fluidity. Stretching and rolling open up pathways of movement through which we can strengthen from head to toe in a balanced manner. Work with a fitness professional to help you to create balanced workouts for a holistic approach to alignment and movement.
Experience movement with me in a feel good, posture-improving stretch and release class for the desk worker called Sit to Stretch on Wednesdays in June from 5:15 to 6:00pm in the BoxJelly White Box. $15 per class. Bring your own mat and foam roller or rent them for $1 each per class.