Sitting at your Desk
You probably have seen it talked about recently, in the media or on Facebook: working upright is supposed to be healthy but why? This article will discuss the reasoning behind this claim and why getting out of that chair is so important!
Let's start with discussing how much we actually sit in a day. We get out of bed and sit down for breakfast. Then we sit in the car to drive to work where most of us sit down for a few hours until it's time to go home. We get in the car, drive home have dinner and sit down in front of the television to relax. Some lucky few have a job that doesn't require them to sit the whole day and there are some that even cycle to work. However, this isn't the Great Kingdom of the Netherlands so there aren't many that cycle to work and it’s not very well catered for. This is why Australia's population is getting fatter by the minute. Research has shown that, on average, people sit between 7.5 to 15 hours a day! Additional research has also shown that it doesn’t matter how much we work out in the gym or on the pitch we can't undo the damage done from sitting for extended periods of time.
Why sitting is bad for your back
Curves are a normal part of the spine's structure. Looking at the spine from the side several curves can be seen. From this angle, the spine resembles an 'S' shape.
These curves enable the spine to distribute the load evenly. Maintaining a good posture means actively maintaining that S curve in your spine. This becomes quite difficult during a long road trip or after being seated behind a desk for an extensive period of time. We usually start out pretty good, but before you know it we're hunched back in our chair or bent forward over that book or phone.
During any body position there will be some loading on the intervertebral discs (1) and vertebral bodies (2) of the spine. Research has shown this pressure to be the least when we lie on our backs and the highest when we are seated, almost twice as much as when we're standing!
When people sit for extended periods of time their pelvis shifts and their lower back ends up in a C shape as opposed to the S discussed earlier. This increases the pressure even more and stretches the back muscles and ligaments which can cause further pain and discomfort.
Not just sitting in a bad posture, but also sitting for extended periods of time can be detrimental to your spinal health. Our intervertebral discs lack their own blood supply. They have their nutrients supplied to them by movement in the spinal column. This means that if we remain seated for a long time, we are starving our intervertebral disc. This will lead to degenerative changes in these segments, which are irreversible. As a consequence the spine has decreased in strength even low loading now has the potential to cause pain.
Other health issues caused by sitting
Research has shown that besides the effect on the back, prolonged sitting can cause all sorts of other health problems. Various research papers have shown that prolonged sitting is bad for your mental health and it increases the chance of diabetes.
Furthermore, the chances of cardiovascular problems increase as cholesterol levels and blood pressure rise. The researchers also saw an increase in different types of cancer due to sitting for extended periods of time. Namely, bowl cancer, cervical cancer and lung cancer. The risk increase per 2 hours was 8% for bowel cancer, 10% for cervical cancer and 6% for lung cancer. People who sit extensively tend to have a lower life expectancy.
All this research shows that we need to drastically rethink our attitude towards sitting. Especially since, as we've earlier discussed, you cannot undo the damage done from sitting all day by spending an hour or two in the gym. This is why many companies have started to invest in standing desks. These desks can be worked on in a seated as well as a standing position, this way you can stand up and continue your work standing when you want to. If such a desk is not available to you, try and stand up when you're on the phone or go for walks during your lunch breaks, this will help decrease the time you spend sitting down. And if you want to help your colleagues be healthier as well, suggest having standing meetings as research has shown that this leads to more creativity, greater cooperation and faster decision making. And who wouldn't be interested in that!? So tomorrow at work change your workstation and get up from that chair!