For most adults living in Great Britain, a normal lifestyle includes sitting for about 14 hours per day. Between sitting for our commutes to work, at a desk at work, the commute home then possibly a few hours in front of the television before bed… all that sitting adds up quickly.
Sitting has become a well known health concern in the past 10 years with studies linking it with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Sitting also contributes to tight muscles and stiff joints around your hips, back and shoulders. When these areas are tight you might develop some discomfort with activities such as walking, running, or playing games or sports.
So what can we do about it?
According to current research, the best thing you can do is avoid sitting as much as possible. This is shown to lengthen your life expectancy and decrease the risk of developing chronic conditions.
Strategies to avoid long periods of sitting:
– Use a standing desk or standing work station. Start off standing for 1 hour per day and progressing to standing for about half of your working hours.
– Stand up every 30 minutes to stretch and/or walk around the office.
– Eat your lunch standing, or even better, walking
– Try to stand for the majority of your commute if on public transport.
If these strategies don’t work for you and you are forced to sit all day at work against your will, then try these ideas to decrease the overall sitting you do throughout your day:
– Avoid sitting still and watching TV in the evenings. There is a strong correlation with how many hours spent watching TV per day and a shorter life expectancy.
– Fit in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. The benefits are undeniable. Increased length of life, decreased risk of chronic diseases, lower BMI, improved mental health. Most people in the UK exercise for about 50 minutes per WEEK which is far below what is recommended.
Stretches can help loosen up the stiff joints and tight muscles that often go along with prolonged sitting. Consider doing some stretches daily, possibly while watching TV in the evenings to avoid sitting still during your favorite programs. Here are a few stretch ideas to try:
Hip flexor stretch: In this position, with your left leg on the floor, hinge forward and tighten your left buttock. Keep your chest high. You should feel a stretch in the front of your left hip. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times then switch sides.
Seated piriformis stretch: While sitting, cross one ankle on to the opposite thigh. Keeping your back straight and chest high, lean forward towards your shin. You should feel a stretch in the buttock of the leg that is propped up. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times then switch sides.
Doorway Stretch: placing your forearms on either side of a doorway in one of the following 3 positions, lean your body gently through the doorway until you feel a stretch in the front of both shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat each position 2-3 times.
Open books: lay on your side with knees bent. Start out with your shoulders stacked and hands together. Keep your hips stacked on top of each other while you open your top arm to make a large T, twisting through your spine. Hold open for 5 seconds and repeat 10-20 times, 2-3 times per day
Cervical retraction: In sitting or standing, gently tuck your chin back towards your neck. You should end up with your ears directly over your shoulders. You might feel the muscles deep in the front of your neck working and/or a stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds, repeat 10-20 times.
With these strategies, you should be able to decrease the negative effects of sitting. If you develop any pain with sitting which isn’t relieved by these stretches or strategies, you should consider being checked out by a medical professional who specialises in movement and postures like a physiotherapist.