Many of us have jobs that require long periods of sedentary activity such as sitting in meetings, working on computers and driving. Especially during the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re finding that many of our day-to-day activities—eating, watching TV, playing video games—also have us sitting, and we often sleep in the fetal position, which places the body in the same sitting position.
You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking in terms of risks to your health. That’s not a stretch.
In multiple studies over the past 10 years, researchers have found that prolonged sitting and sedentary behavior is correlated to premature mortality, increased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and back and neck pain.
Conversely, taking breaks from prolonged sitting has been shown to lower risk related to waist circumference, BMI, triglyceride levels and blood sugar levels.
Studies have also shown that when you’re sitting in a relaxed posture, the muscles of your core and hips are inactive—leading to reduced strength and muscle tone—and your hip flexors are shortened, leading to reduced mobility and further contributing to dormant butt syndrome (a condition in which your butt muscle doesn’t work optimally from a combination of tightness in the hip flexor and reduced muscle strength from sitting too much.) This makes doing non-sitting activities more difficult and can set you up for aches, pains and possible injury.
So the general consensus is that we should avoid prolonged sitting.
Fortunately, there’s a simple fix for this.
The first step is understanding that you need to make a conscious effort to break up your sitting. From there, follow these easy tips.
- Get up and stand or walk around every so often, or get a standing desk or find a way elevate your computer so you can stand and work.
- Do a few exercises periodically through the day (see below).
- During times when you can’t get up and move around, even just squeezing the muscles of the core, hips and legs for a few repetitions will get those muscles activated and help get the blood circulating.
- In addition, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day can assist in your ability to focus as well as improve your overall well-being. Another helpful hint is to make sure you’re eating healthy meals and snacks. Proper nutrition not only helps your performance in the board room or on the court, it also assists in reducing your risk of developing some of the above mentioned health risks.
Here are a few movements you can do during a break from sitting to keep your joints and muscles activated.
Lie on your stomach and use your arms to press up, keeping the rest of your body relaxed and on the ground. This helps offset the prolonged flexed position of your lower back from sitting.
A great way to activate core muscles and hips. Lie on your back with your feet and upper back flat on the floor and lift your butt toward the ceiling. This also helps offset the prolonged flexion of the spine from sitting.
Excellent for overall core strengthening. Elevate your body by pushing up on your forearms and toes. You can also do this against a wall or desk.
Helps loosen your upper back and chest to offset the slumped forward position our body often takes when we’re sitting and working at computer. Get on your hands and knees and place one hand behind your head, rotating your body and twisting your chest in the direction of the elevated arm. Do both sides.
Body weight squat
Gets the core, hip and leg muscles working and promotes circulation in the hips and legs. Sit back, keep your knees in line with your toes and look straight ahead.
Body weight lunge
Just like squats, these get your core, hip and leg muscles working. Take a step forward with one leg, shift your weight and lower your body until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
We may find ourselves with a lot of sedentary moments these days, but prolonged sitting doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Remember, it’s your body—take charge of it and make a few simple changes to keep you happy, healthy and terrific.
Chris Kolba is a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.