Get Up! Keep Moving. Use It or Lose It.

The function of our bodies is to move. For all of history people have been physically active all day long. Working, playing, pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, squatting, bending, twisting, jumping, walking, running and more– our bodies are amazingly capable of adapting to whatever we ask of it. People didn’t “exercise”; they were far too busy. The modern age has changed our relationship with our bodies in ways that are unique in history and completely antithetical to how we are designed to function.

The 20th century was full of great inventions with unintended consequences. I’m sure you can think of some. The invention and popularity of the automobile was a significant turning point, followed by another one– the introduction of TV in the 1950’s. Instead of walking everywhere or riding a horse or buggy we can now sit in relative comfort all the way to our destination. For the first time in history we suddenly had something to sit and stare at for hours on end to distract us from our lives and hypnotize us into buying stuff. This was the start of the dilemma most of us find ourselves in today: a lifestyle structured around too much sitting.

For the majority of us excessive sitting demands a high price. There are a wide range of physiological changes that occur as a result of sitting, and the accumulative effect can interfere with the quality and length of your life. Studies show that the older we get the more likely we are to spend more hours each day sitting—and often for extended periods of time.

Some Problems from Extended Sitting

  • Breathing becomes shallower causing the brain to receive less blood and oxygen which can impede healthy mood and brain function. Breathe!
  • Digestion slows down causing a wide range of problems, from acid reflux to constipation, weight gain and beyond.
  • Muscles: standing and moving require you to tense your abdominal muscles, whereas sitting allows for complete relaxation of core and glute muscles. A strong and stable core is essential to a healthy back, good posture, balance and stability, and your ability to move however you choose with low risk of injury, such as ordinary tasks like tying your shoes.
  • Reduced range of motion of the hips, hamstrings, back, neck, and shoulders which may lead to increased risk of falling and injury. Muscles may degenerate leading to overall weakness.
  • Bones: weight bearing exercise, even walking, leads to stronger and healthier bones. Sitting for too long at a time may contribute to weak bones and osteoporosis.
  • Spine: compared to standing, sitting puts more pressure on your neck and spine. This causes the disks to become compressed, leading to less blood flow, loss of flexibility and back problems.
  • Poor circulation in the legs from sitting can lead to varicose veins, swollen ankles and even blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis).
  • Diabetes: there is a 90% increased risk from sitting more than eight hours a day. How’s that for motivation to make some changes?
  • Heart disease: sitting for extended periods makes it easier for the arteries to become clogged, leading to an increased risk for heart disease.
  • People who watched the most TV in an 8.5-year study had a 61 percent greater risk of dying than those who watched less than one hour per day. Turn it off! Listen to music instead– it encourages you to move.

TV time/day         Increased risk of death

1-2 hours                                 4%

3-4 hours                               14%

5-6 hours                              31%

7+ hours                               61%

  • Overeating: When sitting in front of the TV you are more likely to snack, whereas when you’re up and moving around you’re less likely to. Food ads on TV are carefully designed to create strong cravings. Turn it off!

Does Your Commute, Job or Hobby Require Extended Sitting?

  • Watch your posture. Sit up straight. Keep your head directly above your shoulders and your feet flat on the floor. Check regularly to make sure your posture is as good as you can make it.
  • Practice isometric exercises: while sitting or driving squeeze various muscle groups hard without moving them. Pull in your abdominal muscles firmly throughout the day and hold it. Doing this repeatedly is proven to strengthen and tone muscles. Don’t hold your breath and be sure to breathe from the lower belly.
  • Alternate between sitting and standing. Get up, stretch carefully (with focus on the hip flexors), walk and move your muscles every 30 minutes at minimum. Stand up during commercial breaks, mute the sound and move your body (and avoid the refrigerator).
  • Switch to a standing desk, but don’t just stand there– stretch, bounce, move your body, do isometrics—and pay attention to your posture.
  • Exercise regularly. Those who get around two hours per week of good quality exercise, both cardio and strength training, may prevent some of the worst outcomes of excessive sitting. Set up your treadmill or stationary bike in front of the TV or computer and move while you watch or work. Be resourceful and creative. Walk while talking on the phone. Make new healthy habits around movement.
  • If pain inhibits movement you will benefit from efforts to prevent and reduce inflammation, the cause of pain. Avoid sugar, salt, alcohol and processed foods; decrease meat and dairy products; decrease consumption of nightshade foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, including salsa; increase your fiber and pure water intake; and supplement daily with turmeric/curcumin capsules.
  • Limitations: For those with health conditions that limit movement– use a nearby chair, walker or cane to support yourself and get up carefully anyway. Request smart exercise and muscle strengthening advice for your particular needs from an Occupational Therapist or other health practitioner and do them daily; no excuses. The effort will reward you with improved quality of life.

Little decisions reaffirmed each day have a far more significant impact on your life than big decisions. I hope you will decide to do things differently, ask for assistance when needed and remind yourself daily that this is important and you’re worth it.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/

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