Simple ways to reduce the effects of sitting all day
You know the feeling. You’ve been sitting at a computer all day long. It’s finally time to go home. Your back is stiff. Your neck is stiff. Rising from your chair causes you to groan, particularly if you’re over forty. Sitting all day long is a fact of life for most of us who work in offices. Sitting takes a toll on the body – in the form of not just obesity, but also cancer, diabetes, and spine problems like disk herniation. It’s even said that “sitting is the new smoking.” The more sedentary you are, the less fit you are, which contributes to a host of health issues starting with heart problems. So how can we fight against the results of too much sitting – the stiffness, the spreading backside from too many meeting donuts, the terrible lack of fitness?
Here are some ways to fight what sitting does to your body.
Small changes to counteract sitting issues
There are many discomforts that happen when one sits too much. Reader’s Digest offers some easy solutions. One side effect of sitting too much is that insulin activity decreases and your body doesn’t use blood sugar correctly. Fight that by drinking water throughout the day. It will also cause you to get up and walk to the bathroom more often. Reposition the computer monitor so you aren’t looking down all day, which causes an aching neck. Aching leg muscles? Reposition the chair so knees are above the hips, and keep feet flat on the floor. Inactivity can cause a breakdown in bone, so fight it by getting more calcium and vitamin D into your diet.
Did you know that those of us who fidget are actually more fit and healthy? Prevention Magazine reports the effects of a 12-year study on women who fidgeted to varying degrees and the results are startling. The article notes, “When the researchers separated the women into three groups — low fidgeting, moderate fidgeting, and high fidgeting — they discovered that the most active sitters completely dodged any increased health risks.” How did they do it? “These women sat as much as seven hours a day, but by continually tapping their fingers, bouncing their legs, and, the researchers suspect, hopping up frequently, they were able to avoid the health impacts of lounging.”
Exercise vigorously for health
One very negative effect of sitting all day is that it damages your heart. Proteins called troponins get released by the heart muscle cells when they have been damaged from sitting. During a heart attack, troponins surge in the blood. According to a study reported in Business Insider, “an October study found that individuals who sit more than 10 hours a day have above-normal troponin levels — not heart-attack levels, but high enough that researchers considered the condition ‘subclinical cardiac injury.’”
Also as reported in Business Insider, the American Heart Association found in a lengthy research study that vigorous workouts can reduce the effects of sitting in men and women in their late 40’s to early 50’s. All had been very sedentary in their adult lives. Researchers tracked their progress for two years after giving each participant an individualized exercise plan that gradually increased in intensity. Participants in the study worked out several times a week for 30 minutes. The key to success, researchers found, was in alternating low and high-intensity workouts. Participants were also encouraged to mix in other exercises, for variety – swimming, treadmill, etc. A control group was treated exactly the same except that they did yoga and stretching. That group derived fewer benefits, although after the study results came out many switched to the more high-intensity workout.
Target your exercise routine to specific parts of the body
Aaptive is the top audio-based fitness app in the Apple store. According to the Aaptive website it’s important to target specific areas of the body that suffer from too much sitting. To loosen up stiff necks and shoulders, for instance, pushups, high planks, and dumbbell shrugs are the answer. Hips that tighten while sitting benefit from lunges and squats – as do legs and glutes.
The spine really suffers from the inactivity of sitting. Aaptiv has a number of ideas to counteract spine damage. Pay attention to posture. Poor posture pulls and weakens neck and spine muscles. Consider getting a standing desk. Bridges, planks, and core work actively make the spine stronger.
Take frequent breaks and move around more
Many people who run as a hobby also work sedentary jobs, and their bodies suffer from sitting. Runner’s Worldrecommends getting up every 30-40 minutes during the day and taking a short walk, or walking around the desk while on a call, or walking a flight of stairs.
The Mayo Clinic also advises sedentary folks to move around every thirty minutes or so. They point out that it’s a good idea to stand while watching television. Most of us watch two hours of television a day. Meetings are usually done while sitting around a table, but what about having meetings while walking? What about walking during a phone call? There are lots of ways to incorporate movement into the day, they note, pointing out that “physical activity helps maintain muscle tone, your ability to move and your mental well-being, especially as you age.”
In conclusion, although the data varies from study to study, most experts agree that the way to combat the many negative effects of sitting is simple: move around more. At least, stand up and move around every hour or so. If possible, exercise after work or on your lunch hour. Drink water. Fidget around – although perhaps not in meetings. Just don’t sit hour after hour.