As a chiropractor I deal with the effects of a sedentary life on the spines of so many people. But sitting has other far reaching effects on your health. There is nothing more common today and unfortunately more unnatural for your body than to sit for extended periods of time. It has recently been shown in a study at the University of Hong Kong and the Department of health that to sit too long is more dangerous for your health than smoking? I hear you say, “Oh, I am ok because even though I sit all day at work I do regular exercise at the end of each day to stay fit and healthy.” Well, there is bad news for you too! Further studies have shown that sitting down for prolonged periods even if you do exercise and keep a healthy weight is still just as dangerous for your health. New Australian research shows that each hour in front of a screen is associated with a 9% increased risk of death from cancer and an 18% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Multiply that by many hours a day and top it off with an hour or two watching TV and the maths starts to look pretty grim.
Even your genes get affected if you sit too long. An editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggested that genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down after hours of sitting. What else are we going to learn as time goes by?
We need to abolish the idea that sedentary behaviour is synonymous not exercising. There are many of us who train hard to stay fit but still spend a large portion of our days on our backsides. Just because you exercise doesn’t mean that smoking won’t kill you does it? In just the same way regular exercise doesn’t mean that sitting in your chair all day at the office won’t seriously affect your health either.
The human body was designed for movement. This movement is essential for more than just muscles and joints, it is vital for the circulation of blood, oxygen, nutrients, and toxins. Movement enhances cellular respiration and keeps the brain and nervous system alive. This movement is required to massage the organs, muscles, joints and tissues of the body enhancing flexibility and keep your balance systems working. Lymph fluid is circulated, and lymph must be moved by physical activity alone since there is no pumps like the heart to do that job. Your lymphatic system is vital for immune function and proper fat digestion.
You can’t starve your brain, joints, organs and tissues of movement for hours on end and then think that a good half hour workout (or longer if you like) will undo all the damage. This would be as silly as thinking that:
Skipping your regular car service every 5-10,000 km in favour of a really big one at 100,000 km is going to do the job. By the time you have done 100,000 km the damage has been done. No matter how good a 100,000 km service you get it is too late.
Not cleaning your teeth twice per day in favour of going to the dentist once a year for a professional clean. Doesn’t matter how good your dentist is your teeth are still going to rot.
Instead of stretching daily and taking regular breaks from sitting you go to the chiropractor once per month for your adjustment. Sooner or later you are still going to get injured and/or get sick.
Now, we are obviously not trying to underrate the benefits of your 100,000km car service, the yearly dental appointment or your monthly chiropractic adjustment. We just suggest that you keep the relative benefits of these interventions and any others you choose as well as how often you need them in perspective based on how you live your life. The better your lifestyle choices and the less you sit the more benefit you get from everything else.
So our tips for healthy living are:
1) Take 2min stretch breaks every 20min
2) Try standing during meetings instead of sitting
3) Where-ever possible take the option that involves the most movement such as the stairs, getting up from your desk to speak with someone or even try to get through the weekend without using the car for a change.
4) After dinner take a walk instead of sitting in front of the TV. In general if you limit the amount of TV you watch you will find more active things to try over time that are both better for your health and your mind.
5) Take up yoga and practice a little everyday
6) Keep your regular chiropractic check-ups
7) Get regular massage
8) If you read do it in a good recliner or lying down with a pillow under your knees a good pillow for neck support. This will take the pressure off your spine and help with lymphatic drainage.
Yours in Better Health
Dr Andrew Richards