I’ve recently taken to posting about all things…healthful. Dr. Hugmamma is in the house! Next patient, please?!? Of course I have my panel of experts, doctors, writers, and wannabees like me. Because we are all guilty of sitting, probably most of the time, I thought this article was timely. I too need to “listen up!” Join me won’t you…
A matter of gravity – Too much sitting can compromise your health
By Jennifer Nelson
MIKE DELGADO knew something had to give. “I typically sit in an office chair 12 to 14 hours a day, and I was starting to have major low-back-pain issues,” … About to head to a chiropractor seeking relief, Delgado instead purchased an ergonomic office chair. Though skeptical it could make a difference, within a week he felt better and one year later is pain-free. He credits the chair.
Surprisingly, Delgado–and others who sit at a desk all day–is a lot like an astronaut. When astronauts are in space, they lengthen, explains Joan Vernikos, former NASA scientist and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals; How Simple Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death–and Exercise Alone Won’t (Quill Drive, 2011). “They stretch out because nothing is pulling them down.” Then they return to Earth and, wham, their backs compress. Muscles that support the spine that were not used in space due to weightlessness, suddenly are faced with gravity, and need to prevent vertebrae from slamming against each other. It’s a lot like sitting.
People don’t need rocket scientists to tell them that sitting too much could give them a sore back. But now, other health problems are attributed to too much sitting, including raised blood pressure and, of course, obesity.
Sitting is equivalent to what happens when you quit using gravity. When you stand up, gravity pulls on your body from head to toe. When you sit down, that distance is smaller, and if you allowed gravity to have its way, you’d be crumpled on the floor.
“We are born in gravity and have evolved in it,” Vernikos says, “If we don’t use it and we sit or lie down too frequently, then we do away with the stimulation that nature provides, because we aren’t using muscles while sitting all day.”
What happens when you stop using core, spine and other muscles that engage while standing? A host of health issues.
Houston, we have a problem
To complicate the issue further, if you slump in your chair, round your shoulders forward, lean toward your computer screen and sit with your legs tucked under, it’s not difficult to see why you might have back pain, neck pain and other problems.
“Posture is huge (when you’re sitting) in a chair, and if you’re tall or short it completely changes the angles,” says…Sara Daly, physical therapist at Waterfalls Day Spa and Vermont Wellness Tetreats in Middlebury, Vermont.
One small step
Since most of us sit eight to 10 hours at work, then sit on our drive home and plop in front of the television for more sitting at night, how can we counter these effects? “The most important thing is to get out of your chair and stand up,” says Vernikos. Adjust, pace and move. Get up every 20 or 30 minutes and just stand–you don’t even need to walk around.
Daly says to take breaks and change positions frequently. Walk while on the phone, squeeze your shoulder blades together, flex and point your ankles. Set a computer or phone alarm to remind you to change position. Post notes at your desk, or buddy up with a co-worker and prompt each other.
When sitting or standing, try not to slouch. Sit up straight with your back against the back of your chair and your feet flat on the floor. Stand tall with your head up and shoulders back.
At home, lie down and elevate your feet above your heart for a few minutes to improve circulation. Sit on an exercise ball for a few minutes, or lie back over it to change the curve of your spine. Almost anything you do that gets you up and changes your position every 30 minutes will help.
As for astronauts, Vernikos thinks a dose of gravity may eventually be the cure–some sort of spinning wheel or machine they can ride to get their daily gravitational pull. For those of us on Earth but chair-bound, getting up often is the simplest solution.
…don’t know about you…but i ache just reading this article…think i’ll stand for awhile…