More than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting, whether it is while watching TV, working at a computer, reading a book, commuting or doing countless other activities for which one is seated.
Prolonged sitting is not going to do any good for your health. It affects super-fit people as well as couch potatoes pretty much alike.
It contributes to muscle fatgue, weak bones, osteoporosis, obesity, foggy brain, strained neck, and sore shoulders and back.
It can also lead to metabolic syndrome, which represents a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and unhealthy cholesterol levels.
When you spend most of your time sitting, your body burns less fat and your blood circulates poorly. Slow blood circulation in the legs can cause various problems, such as edema, swollen ankles, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis.
Plus, if you sit for hours looking at a computer, laptop, mobile device or TV screen, your eyes can become strained.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, inactivity like sitting at a desk for long periods of time has been linked not only to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease but also to increased risk of certain cancers.
Another 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that prolonged sedentary time is independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.
Although it is hard to completely reverse the damage caused by prolonged sitting, you can take steps to prevent further damage and improve your health.
Here are some ways to help undo the damage of sitting all day.
If sitting for prolonged hours while working has taken a toll on your health, join a yoga class without thinking twice.
Many yoga postures target areas of tension and provide relief from many desk-job ailments. As an added bonus, yoga helps keep the stress of a high-pressure job under control.
Two yoga poses, Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) and Cow Pose (Bitilasana), when practiced together helps stretch the back torso and neck and brings flexibility to the spine.
It also helps improve posture and prevent back and neck pain when practiced regularly.
To help understand the Cat-Cow Pose better, watch this video.
Note: Pregnant women and those with back problems should do not practice these yoga poses.
Other effective yoga poses include Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana), Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana), Fish Pose (Matsyasana), Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) and Child’s Pose (Balasana), to name a few.
It is a well-known fact that prolonged sitting is not good for cardiovascular health. It causes blood to pool in the legs and affect the endothelial function of the arteries, or the ability of blood vessels to expand from increased blood flow.
An easy way to prevent damage to the arteries from sitting all day is to take frequent walking breaks.
A 2015 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reports that three hours of sitting resulted in a significant impairment in shear rate and superficial femoral artery and flow-mediated dilation (FMD).
However, when light activity breaks were introduced hourly during sitting, there was significant decline in FMD.
Walking is a good exercise for those suffering from cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. For every one hour of sitting, take a 10-minutes walking break.
Sitting on a stability ball, also known as a yoga or exercise ball, is something that people of all ages should try.
As this type of ball is not stable, your body needs to work in order to balance itself on it. This forces your core muscles to work and your body automatically tries to align itself into the proper posture. This is an important factor in counteracting some of the ill effects of prolonged sitting.
Plus, a stability ball causes you to frequently change positions to maintain balance. This helps reduce back pain.
You can use this type of ball while taking a tea break from your office job, watching TV, meditating or performing simple workouts.
When using a stability ball, sit up straight and keep your feet flat on the floor in front of you. This will provide support and balance.
You can do stretching exercises to reverse the effects of sitting. Stretching helps you manage the aches and pains caused by prolonged sitting. It also eases neck and shoulder tension and strain.
Regular stretching can improve your range of motion, increase circulation and calm your mind.
The forward hang and the standing side stretch are two of the best options to try. These simple stretching exercises can be easily done standing anywhere, even in a cubicle.
To do the forward hang:
To do the standing side stretch:
If you have to sit for long hours at your job, the most important thing you need to do is sit correctly. To a great extent, correct sitting posture will reduce damage to the spinal cord and joints caused by prolonged sitting.
It’s ideal to learn proper sitting posture at a young age, but it’s never too late to make improvements, even if you’ve been sitting in a poor position regularly for years. The key is to practice good posture all the time.
While sitting, keep these tips in mind:
If you have a tendency to slouch while sitting, be aware that it can put pressure on the lumbar region of the spine. This can lead to lower back pain and other health problems.
To prevent slouching, using a lumbar support pillow is a very good option. It also helps maintain the normal spinal curves, which should be present while sitting correctly.
As an added bonus, these pillows help ease back pain. A 2009 study published in Ergonomics reports that use of a pneumatic support while sitting helps reduce disc stress and pain in the back.
A lumbar support pillow can be used while sitting in the office or even while driving for long hours.
These pillows are readily available in the market and come in several forms. You can choose one that goes well with your height and chair type.
Neck strain is a common result of sitting and hunching over a computer screen for long periods of time.
For neck discomfort from staring down at a keyboard or phone, some simple neck stretches can offer some relief. It will help relieve tight muscles along the back of your neck, as well as strengthening them. This is very good for your entire spine.
Poor blood circulation, weight gain and back pain due to prolonged sitting can be prevented to some extent by using a standing desk.
A standing desk is a specially designed desk that sits high off the floor, so that you can either stand at it or sit on a high stool to use it. Workstations that are movable to accommodate both sitting and standing positions are also an option.
Working at a standing desk keeps your muscles activated and reduces the stress on your neck, back and spine, which is common in those who sit while working.
A 2015 study published in Backentive Medicine reports that both standing and treadmill desks showed positive results for improving physiological and psychological well-being with little impact on work performance.
Further studies are still required to evaluate the utility of these desks.
Earlier, a 2013 study published in Applied Ergonomics also reported that a sit-stand workstation has implications for preventing discomforts in office workers.
However, keep in mind that standing should be done in moderation, just like sitting. Use a standing desk continuously for not more than 1 hour and do not wear high heels. For every hour of standing, take a 10-minute sitting break.
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