Primitive men and women faced many daily life threatening challenges – the weather, animal predators, the constant search for food and shelter, to name just a few. One thing they didn’t have to worry about was sitting too long in a car, at a desk or on a couch in front of a computer or other electronic device. This is a challenge unique to modern times and it can be life threatening!
An increasing body of studies is showing that prolonged sitting, even for those with a regular exercise program, cannot only cripple posture and contribute to back and neck pain, carpal tunnel and many other physical challenges, but can cause muscle activity needed to breakdown fats and sugars to stall and, thus, unbalance vital metabolic processes affecting enzymatic activity, dulling brain activity, decreasing bone density, increasing blood pressure, inhibiting bowel function, etc. Extended sitting has, in fact, joined smoking and obesity as an important risk factor for chronic illness, in particular cardiovascular disease and cancer.
There is good news, however. Studies also show that these negative effects can be significantly reversed by changing life habits, namely sitting less and moving more! Our bodies were designed for upright activity, not sedentary life. Any kind of movement is good: stand up to talk on the phone or a colleague, stay standing in the subway instead of dashing for a seat, work at a standing desk or a special treadmill-ready vertical desk, take frequent walks and breaks. If you need to rest, lying down, sitting in a recliner or rocker would be preferable to regular sitting.
Sitting, of course, is not going away in 21st century work life, but it is possible to do it in short intervals and in a way that supports your body in a neutral position, without the stressful collapsing or leaning forward with your head, neck, shoulders and upper back, typical of doing computer work or texting. Here’s a 5-step program to teach your body to sit (or stand) wisely:
- Stand up with feet pointing straight ahead.
- Align your pelvis by placing your right hand (palm facing toward the body) on the lower belly over the pubic bone so that the middle finger points directly down. Place your left hand in back on your rear with palm facing out, middle finger also pointing directly down. At first, this may feel like your pushing you’re hips backwards, but actually your straight (no pelvic tilt).
- Sit down and get used to this feeling of the pelvis facing down instead of collapsing forward. This is your base, allowing your torso to rest comfortably on top.
- While standing or seated, correct your shoulder position. Spread your arms out on either side about 45 degrees, keeping palms down, thumbs pointing forward. Then rotate your shoulders and arms back (think unscrewing or rolling back). This brings your shoulder blades closer together, chest expanded, palms up and thumbs pointing away from the body. Your neck should be relaxed and straight, not pushing forward.
- Maintain this shoulder rotation position with chest expanded as you bring your hands forward, palms facing down, as you would sitting at a keyboard.
Think about this position as you sit. It won’t happen overnight, but in time it will feel easy and natural. The key to it all is: every 20 minutes or so take a stand-up break (you can even set a timer to remind yourself) – a few kicks, dance moves, wash a few dishes, review the 5-steps, whatever. You’ll find that moving is great brain medicine. Fatigue decreases; your overall sense of well-being increases. And the more you get used to moving, the more you want to move. Then, refreshed, realigned, you’re ready to sit or stand and face the challenges of the digital age!
Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior – National Institutes of Health (NIH)
What Are the Risks of Sitting Too Much? – Mayo Clinic
The Health Hazards of Sitting – Washington Post
Prevent Back Pain and Other Common Problems By Sitting Correctly – Dr. Mercola