Do you have “sitting disease?” That’s the new buzzword for a sedentary lifestyle that may put your health at risk. In a recent Washington Post article several experts outlined the various health hazards of prolonged sitting. Sitting for 8 hours or more per day, either at your computer at work or in front of the TV at home, can lead to many health related problems throughout the body. These problems include neck and back pain, muscle weakness, scoliosis and even an increased risk for many disorders such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.
Sitting at a computer for several hours each day can put increase stress and strain on the spine as well as the intervertebral discs in the neck and the lower back. This stress can cause neck and back pain, bulging discs, nerve pain and muscular imbalances. The muscles of the anterior shoulder and hip, namely the pectoralis minor and the psoas major become shortened and less flexible and the muscles of the upper back and lower abdominal region, primarily the trapezius and rhomboids in the upper back and the transverse abdominals in the lower abdominal region become lengthened and weakened. These muscular imbalances can lead to permanent changes to the alignment of the spine and can cause chronic neck and back pain over time.
Individuals who are the most sedentary are more than twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. In addition, sitting for long periods of time can slow blood circulation, which can cause fluid to pool in the lower legs. Problems from this pooling can range from edema to varicose veins to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) a dangerous blood clot in the lower legs. Scientists have also shown that prolonged sitting can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis as a decrease in weight bearing activities can lead to decreased bone density and bone strength. Studies have also linked sitting to an increased risk of breast, colon and endometrial cancers.
Human beings evolved as walking individuals, exploring the world on their feet, not sitting in a chair for several hours at a time. There are a number of things that you can do to combat sitting disease. First, if you have to sit for prolonged periods of time, it is important to sit properly. Maintaining a neutral alignment of the spine is key. To achieve neutral alignment of the spine you need to sit up straight with your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. You should be sitting on your “sit bones” and your lower back should be supported if possible with your feet flat on the floor. You also want to make sure that your computer or work station is set up as ergonomically as possible to avoid slouching or straining your neck and back. A supportive office chair is a good investment as well as a stand up desk.
In addition to sitting properly while at your computer you can also do some regular activities to help diminish the effect of prolonged sitting on your body. Sitting on an exercise ball or even a backless stool will help you sit up straight and force you to keep your lower abdominal muscles engaged. This will help to improve your posture and your core muscle strength. Stretching the muscles in the front of your shoulders by pulling your shoulder blades down and back, like you are squeezing a lemon, will help decrease strain on the neck, shoulders and upper back. Alternating between sitting and standing at your work station or at least walking around or marching in place for several minutes every hour will improve circulation and prevent swelling in the lower legs. And finally, incorporating some deep breathing exercises and gentle yoga poses into your day can decrease tension in the neck and back and increase flexibility throughout your body.
Barbara Boot Silbey is a Physical Therapist at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic, at (802) 722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT, www.sojourns.org, find us on facebook and check out our blog: http://www.reformer802.com/journey2wellness.