4 Ways To Undo The Negative Effects of Sitting
If you’re like most men and women living and working in the first world today, you probably spend a good majority of your day sitting down. We go from the kitchen table, to the car, to our workstation, and back home to our couches for a little Netflix before bed.
As we all know, sitting on our kiesters all day isn’t helping our health or our physique. Research has shown that spending prolonged time in sedentary behaviours (ie. sitting) is an independent risk factor for increased cardiometabolic risk and all-cause mortality (ie. death). And not only is sitting killing us… it causes weakness and eventual atrophy in the largest skeletal muscle in the body – the gluteus maximus (buttocks muscle) – which not only looks unattractive (think: pancake butt), it causes instability in the posterior chain which can easily develop into lower back pain or hip bursitis.
If you’ve ever sat still for a long period of time, and had difficulty returning to standing, you’ll also understand that sitting tightens and shortens the hip flexors and weakens the glutes.
But for many of us – our lives depend on us doing work in the sitting position all.. day.. long. So what to do?
Here are a few tips to un-do some of the negative effects of sitting:
1. Take a 5 minute break from sitting every 30-45 minutes. Set an alarm on your phone, schedule a meeting with a coworker, or keep only a small water glass at your desk that requires you to get up and refill it more often. Stand up, and walk around a little. Grab a glass of water, and return to work. The break is good for your body – but also your mind.
2. Stretch! Some dynamic stretching, like the exercises listed below, can help to loosen tight hips and activate the glutes.
-leg swings: forward and side-to-side (20 per leg in each direction)
-grok squat: ease into this one if you're tight (hold for 60 seconds)
-pigeon pose: on a table or on the floor (hold each leg for 60 seconds)
-glute bridge: (10 reps, holding at the top for a couple of seconds)
-supermans: (10 reps)
3. Hold walking meetings. If President Obama is doing it, you know it’s good ;) Walking meetings are becoming very popular in the business world, and the idea is incredibly simple. Walking boosts cognitive attention and focus, unlike driving which distracts us, and gets you out of your seat during the day. Instead of meeting in a board room, take a walk around the block with your colleague or pitch your next idea in a park.
4. Fidget. A new study from British researchers showed that fidgeting can negate some of the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle. They found that women who sat for >7hrs a day but didn’t fidget much were 43% more likely to die early than those who sat for <5 hours. But women in the prolonged sitting group who had trouble sitting still (middle- to high- fidgeting groups) didn’t have the increased risk of death. Given that the average Canadian sits for >8 hours a day, it’s a good idea to incorporate a little fidgeting!
Regular exercise is imperative for the maintenance of good health and human longevity. Anything you can do to diminish sitting time, and increase activity, will benefit your health in the long-run. Hopefully these tips have given you some new ideas of how to be more active during the day!
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND