Is sitting the new smoking?

More and more studies are showing the health risks of sitting at your desk for too long. Heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers have all been shown to increase in those individuals that lead a sedentary lifestyle. Studies are beginning to equate sitting to smoking in terms of harm to overall health.

Compound that with sitting at home and watching television when you get home and people fail to realize how long they are truly sitting in a day. Sitting for an hour can already start to have harmful effects. We have become a culture of sedentary individuals.

There are small things that you can do every day that will make you a less sedentary person. The difficulty for most people is getting started. However, once you used to doing these things then they will become habits as opposed to things that you constantly have to think about on a daily basis. Start small and work up to some of the ones that take more time and thought. Getting up for five minutes can change how your body is reacting.

I treat people every day that do not understand how harmful sitting is for your body. For example, back and neck pain. These are two diagnoses I treat on a regular basis—patients with back and neck pain compose more than fifty percent of my practice. Education is a big part of our treatment plan and getting you to understand your body and ways to make changes to your environment that will help the pain that you are dealing with not become chronic pain.

The one consistent thing that I see is that if people got up more from their desks, from watching television, there would be far less back and neck pain diagnoses. And many of the things that people can do to save themselves from a life time of pain are so simple, yet many people ignore it until it is too late which leads to a long and costly fix where the person spends many days in therapy or getting injections. But just a few adjustments to your every day routine could help. Here are a few suggestions to begin being healthier even though you may have a desk job:

  1. Get up. You should not be sitting for more than a half hour at a time. Posture can become poor meaning your shoulders can slump forward and your back can become curved in the wrong position—putting an extremely high amount of pressure on the discs in your spine. Over time this can lead to herniated discs which can cause numbness and tingling.
    By getting up every half hour it prevents a lot of bad habits from developing. And when I say get up it does not need to be a lengthy trip out of the office, stand up at your desk, walk around your chair, walk to a file cabinet, and stand up during a conference call are all quick and simple ways to get moving during the day.
  2. Do exercises throughout the day. The video shows how to do stretches at any point during the day. Exercises do not have to be squats at your desk chair, but standing up and doing some heel raises, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, stretching and shoulder rolls will help minimize the ill effects of sitting. If you find yourself at night sitting in front of the TV for long periods get up during commercial breaks, try not to get sucked in for hours with just sitting or laying.
  3. Walking meetings. In my case, foam rolling meetings. Scheduling meetings where you can be walking from one place to the next or just scheduling a meeting to walk for an hour will make it a much more productive meeting. Exercise has been shown to increase brain activity. Walking or doing some type of exercise will allow for not only increased brain activity but also minimize the amount of sitting and often eating that is done because as we all know many meetings have been scheduled around consuming a meal or coffee.
    Save yourself some sitting time and some calories by having these meetings while walking around. If walking is not a possibility, have them while moving around on a foam roller or pacing back and forth in a room. I have had many meetings where I am rolling my muscles out on a foam roller. It helps me think better rather than if I am just sinking into my desk chair tuning out while someone is talking.
  4. Look for ways to get up and moving, do not look for excuses. After reading these points, many of you have already formed 20 excuses as to why you cannot be doing any of these things and you are thoroughly convinced in your head that there is just no possible way. But if you truly take a step back, there are ways to have a more active lifestyle. Start with changing just one thing and then when that one thing becomes a habit, then change the next thing. This is an ongoing evolving process.

These are just a few points to give you ideas to get up and moving during the day. If you look hard enough you can find ways that can make your day more active. It is important when making changes to make changes that you incorporate into your lifestyle not just ones that you are going to do for a week and then quit. Finding a long term solution to sitting less will make you a healthier person. 


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