Most of us commute to work sitting in our vehicle, then sit all day at our office job and then sit on the couch when we get home and watch TV. In fact, most of the Western World spends the majority of their life sitting.
Why is sitting bad for you?
As the video above explains, our bodies are designed for movement. The problem with sitting, is that it leads to a sedentary lifestyle, and chronic sedentarism has been proven to be the cause of many serious ailments and diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and dementia. Spending hours, days, months, all in relatively the same position not only takes a toll on our bodies in regards to our posture and musculature, it limits circulation. We all have one big organ that pumps fresh, clean blood out—our heart— but there is no organ to return this blood back to our our filtering organs; the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. Our bodies rely on movement, bending, flexing, and twisting to create a mechanical pump to move this blood back through those organs. Without movement, we have no return pump. Without the return of blood, we become stagnant, and this stagnation leads to inflammation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “chronic inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even depression.”
We aren’t getting the habitual exercise and range of motion we need to keep us healthy, moving and fit. Integrating cardio exercise into our regular schedules is of course imperative to health, both now and as we age. We do however, still need to be realistic in our careers; most jobs are after all desk jobs, and don’t necessarily provide the opportunity to work out or go for a hike as part of our daily tasks and duties.
How to combat sedentarism
Fortunately, sedentarism is being addressed as a workplace issue by forward thinking employers, and we are seeing an increasing number of workplaces making clear efforts in addressing employee health, by affording more opportunities to move while working.
The treadmill desk is considered being ‘productive on two fronts’ according to Brown & Brown, an international Insurance consulting firm, and huge supporter of exercising while working. CEO of Priceline Group, Darren Huston, states that where possible, he will go for a ‘walking meeting’, inviting the discussion to take place while on the move in the park nearby his office complex. His reasoning: “walking clears my brain.” The late Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs was reported to be a huge proponent of the walking meeting, and even Barack Obama is said to end his day by doing a couple laps of the White House with his Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough to review the latest political issues.
The above people are certainly on to something. Research at the University of Bristol and the University of Minnesota have concluded that as we move (especially when outside in nature), parts of our brain are stimulated that we usually find stimulated when during creative pursuits and relaxation. Also, worker productivity was said to increase by ‘substantially’ (as per studies above, measured by quality of work, work output, mental sharpness and improved time management) when workers took a walking break in their work day. This shows that parking in a chair isn’t always our best way to a productive workday. Nevertheless, realistically, so much of our working lives are spent in front of the screen, hunched over the keyboard. But we don’t have to take this sedentarism sitting down!
Beyond integrating regular exercise into your routine before and after work, we certainly can make our sedentary work day a little more comfortable with a little more movement. Click here to learn some simple stretches, movements and tips to integrate into your work day:
Aside from those exercises listed in the above link, you can also try a few of these:
As we bend over the keyboard, our shoulders hunch forward, thereby creating a lactic acid build up and soreness through the upper back, neck and shoulders. Another side affect from this position that we may not realize is that our upper chest muscles constrict, and often for those who do a lot of computer work, these muscles are permanently taught. Opening up through the chest is a liberating release from the keyboard hunch. Find a doorway, and place hands and forearms along the doorframe, then allow yourself to lean forward. Try to release into the pose completely, holding it for several minutes. Feel free to experiment with the pose by moving your arms higher or lower in the doorway.
Use a Ball
Instead of your regular office chair, switch it up by using an exercise ball to sit on. By using a ball (and therefore no backrest), you are engaging core muscles all day, without even realizing it. Core strength is so important for so many aspects of overall strength and injury prevention. As an experiment, try using a ball instead of an office chair for a couple weeks and see if you don’t find yourself standing a little taller. Be sure to find a ball that allows you to sit at the correct height for your desk. If you are concerned about rolling away, they now make stands with wheels for exercise balls, so it has all of the roll around and stability of an office chair, with all of the benefits of an exercise ball).
Take a break
As per the research by the Universities of Bristol and of Minnesota, mentioned above, you will be more productive after a walk, even a quick one. And as we can all attest, it just feels really good to not be looking at a computer screen for a few minutes. If you’re having difficulty integrating a little break in your day, set yourself an alarm or enlist an office friend to come for that break with you, and you will hold each other to it. After all, it will lead to better health and increased productivity! And if 20 minutes is too ambitious, go for 10, or 5 – a little break is better than no break at all.
So stand up for your health. Fight chronic inflammation and future illness by integrating small but effective movements into your everyday sitting at work. You will be doing yourself a huge favor and may immediately notice feeling less inflamed, stiff and even less tired at the end of the day. And if you have a favorite desk stretch, please benefit us all by sharing on our Facebook page. Here’s to a less time sitting at the computer, and to a more healthy you!