Stand up if you want to be fit:
Sitting is supposed to be a cosy, relaxing affair. Instead, staying too long in this position is one of the biggest factors that adversely affects our health
sitting is destroying your body
“Any position we hold for any length of time will eventually turn to pain because the body is not primed to do that,” says Dr. Joan Vernikos, a former director of life sciences at the US space agency NASA, according to Thrillist.
In her latest book Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Life Long Health, she explains that prolonged sitting brings similar negative effects to those suffered by astronauts who have been in microgravity. This is especially a problem in a job where you sit for 6 to 13 hours a day - partly uninterrupted - in your place. It results not only in the long-term modern lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity but also immediate pain.
These are the five major disadvantages to prolonged sitting and measures to counteract them:
- Muscular dystrophy
- Nerve damage
- Curving of the upper body
- Problems with the disc
- Acting against your natural movement instinct
“It’s not the number of hours sat that’s important, it’s how many uninterrupted hours of sitting that matters,” said Vernikos. If you sit for a long time, your muscles do not have to do anything and will wither.
Solution: In a study of people who were in bed 24 hours a day, Vernikos discovered that it was enough to get up every 30 minutes to prevent adverse side effects. So, get up every half hour and get moving.
“If you sit in one position long enough and you don’t move, the muscle contracts. As it contracts, it pulls the nerves it’s in contact with, so you go into a sort of spasm,” says Vernikos. This leads to pain in the lower back and shoulders especially. But why do the corresponding nerves not hurt with every movement? The reason is the contracted muscle then relax again.
Solution: Try not to remain in a sitting position, but alter repeatedly.
Curving of the upper body
As much as we try to sit straight, at some point we realise that we are crouching and hunched on the chair. “You’re slouching whether you know it or not. When you slouch while sitting, your head is pulled down and forward by gravity. Your spine will start to curve and your body will experience pain,” explains the scientist.
Solution: Readjust your spine according to gravity and hold your back and head in line.
Problems with the disc
“When you’re sitting, your spine is compressing…and if you lay in bed, you’ll get taller, because your discs are expanding. But when people get out of bed, their vertebrae collapse onto each other and cause pain. This is also happening when you sit for a long period of time,” says Vernikos. The reason for this is the slackening of your muscles in the seated position, thereby pressing the vertebrae on the intervertebral discs.
Solution: The magic word here is movement: According to the researcher, it is sufficient to change your position every 15 to 30 minutes to prevent damage to the intervertebral discs. So get up, do one lap around the office, talk to colleagues and move your spine to the intended upright position.
Acting against your natural movement instinct
“What I learned from my research is that the body needs to move, it has a biological need to move throughout our waking hours as the earth turns,” says the former NASA employee who also speaks of our primitive instinct to flee at any time of a possible danger.
Solution: You can best fight all the pain associated with long periods of sitting with movement. And according to Vernikos’ opinion, you don’t need a gym. Regular exercise, like a short trip to the printer, already helps immensely.