There is an increasing awareness of the negative effects associated with sitting for prolonged periods of time. If you think about how much time you spend sitting whilst working, eating, reading, watching television, using electronic devices or the telephone, this can add up to a staggering amount.
What’s so bad about sitting you might well ask? While we have to rest our legs and take a seat now and again, sitting for prolonged periods of time places increased stress and strain through ligaments, muscles and joints.
For instance, when standing, most of us have a natural lordosis (slight curve) through the lower back area. When we sit down, that curve automatically flattens out. What’s even worse is that if you slouch, that curve actually changes direction. The moment we continue to sit in this position, there is increased pressure through the discs, excessive stress and strain on the ligaments around the spine, and increased stretch and load through the lumbar muscles.
But it’s not just the back that’s affected. When seated muscles and ligaments around your hips, knees and ankle joints are also stretched. Prolonged sitting can regularly cause decreased flexibility through your hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.
Good sitting posture is a crucial starting point. The better the sitting posture, the less strain is placed throughout the surrounding soft tissue and the less pressure around the spine. When sitting at a computer, try to have the screen at eye level and the keyboard and mouse about arms-length from your seated position. If reading or using a tablet device, try holding the book or screen in an elevated position to reduce the amount of slouching. Remember that it is the cumulative total of sitting that is most detrimental.
An important strategy to reduce stress and strain is to move at least every 20–30 minutes. This doesn’t mean that you need to do something else. Even moving position or standing up and sitting straight back down is enough to take stress off our bodies. Try standing during advertisement breaks in your favourite TV show, or standing up after every chapter when reading.
Regular exercise and movement is also an important factor in offsetting the effects of sitting performed for too long. The good news? It doesn’t matter what form of exercise. Find an exercise that you enjoy doing and aim for at least 30 minutes, three times per week. Exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym – it can be walking, dancing or gardening. I even count housework (though it might not be as enjoyable).
As our lifestyles become increasingly sedentary, the need for regular exercise and good posture is ever more important. Remaining seated for prolonged periods can have severe effects on our bodies but simple strategies, such as taking a break from work to stand up and stretch, can help to offset potential damage.
Jason Lee APAM
Malvern East Physiotherapy
Jason is happy to answer any questions you may have, simply send an email to [email protected]