On the bus or train? At your desk? On the sofa?
In that case, the chances are you are sitting down (as am I!) and according to recent research from the University of Regensberg, Germany – that is dangerous. Well, too much of it is anyway. And most of us do too much of it. This latest research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of cervical, bladder and bowel cancer. Another study in the States found that participants spent, on average, 7.7 hours a day in sedentary pursuits. If we also sleep for about 7-8 hours, that’s a heck of a lot of time when we are not moving. And the thing is, we humans are designed to move and we are certainly not designed to sit in chairs.
So why are chairs so bad for us?
There are a whole host of physiological changes that occur when we regularly sit for over 6 hours a day such as weight gain, reduction in bone density and increased chance of high cholesterol and diabetes. In addition, our hip flexors tighten as they are kept in a shortened position. This is something I see regularly in my clinic and if left, it can lead to a rounded posture, which can lead to lower back pain and even bulging or prolapsed discs. These are often caused or made worse by sitting, particularly on a sofa which allows us to slump and slouch our lower spine so that it rounds out instead of curving in. Over time, the discs start to pull out of position and that leads to a big OUCH!
The Japanese don’t use chairs like we do. They squat, sit cross-legged and kneel most of the time at home. This means that their spines are less compromised and their joints remain healthier. Consequently, there are far fewer knee and hip replacement operations in Japan than in the Western world.
But if your work involves sitting a lot, what can you do? Well, the good news is that some simple, easy adjustments to your lifestyle will really help to keep your body in better shape:
- No matter how busy you are, no matter how engrossed you are in your work (or Facebook!), get up at least once an hour. (If you are heeding my most commonly dispensed advice, you will already be doing this as you will need to use the loo!).
- Always leave your desk at lunchtime. Even if the pressure is on, you will think more clearly and make better decisions if you get even just 10 minutes break outside.
- Remember how good it feels to move! Stand up, stretch, roll your shoulders, take deep breaths and then get on with your day. It only takes a minute!
- Try to sit on the floor a bit more. Your lovely, comfy sofa is not really your friend! Occasionally, sit cross-legged or kneel when you are at home. It will be really uncomfortable to begin with, so only do it for short bursts, but you will be amazed at how, over time, it will become easier. When I visited Japan last year, I really struggled with the seating in restaurants, temples and inns, but by the end of 2 weeks, I was sitting easily.
- Swap some of your evening TV watching time for a relaxing shower, walk, baking session or a bit of gardening so you don’t just plonk down and stay down until bedtime.
Right, I'm off for a walk!