With the return to work after the holidays, is for many of us a return to routine and long office hours sitting in front of a computer. Spending a minimum of eight hours a day in front of the screen working, to which we have to add a couple of hours more watching television or playing video games, can give us an idea of why sedentary lifestyle is a growing problem in our society.
Are you one of those who do not get up from the chair all day? We tell you what are the consequences that this can have on your body and your health and what you can do to solve it.
Spend a lot of time sitting, whether working or in our leisure time doing activities that we like (such as watching a movie on TV or playing video console) directly affects the quality of our health, raising the risk of suffering from certain diseases.
Spending more than six hours sitting a day (something that happens very frequently in most of the population) is related to having a higher body mass index, a greater perimeter of waist.
A sedentary lifestyle also favours greater resistance to insulin (which can increase the risk of suffering from the metabolic syndrome and other diseases such as diabetes) and the fact of having a higher blood pressure (in the guide to prevent cardiovascular diseases of the American Heart Association It is recommended to avoid sedentary lifestyle and regular exercise to avoid problems related to the heart and circulatory system).
All these factors are related to what is the biggest epidemic we are living in our days: obesity and overweight. And It not only occurs in adults: in the US 31.2% children suffer one of these two conditions, and we cannot forget that they spend long hours at school sitting in front of their desks.
A study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (September 2017) tells us about the relationship between sedentary lifestyle and increased risk of death in older adults. In this study, an increased risk of death is not only related to the fact of spending many hours sitting, but also not taking small breaks during that long time we spend sitting.
One of the pains that most people who spend a lot of time sitting throughout the day experience is back pain in the lower back, better known as lumbago. Why does this pain occur? To begin with, because the sitting position is not the natural one of the human beings: our body is designed to move, not to spend eight hours a day (hopefully) sitting in front of a screen.
Our spine, with its curves, is designed to support the weight of our body. By sitting for a long time, apart from the fact that the spine loses its main function, we usually do so in a position that is not correct, losing the normal curvature of the lower back. The lumbar spine naturally presents a lordosis or inward curvature, while the most typical posture when sitting, especially if we spend a long time without getting up, is to throw the shoulders forward and the lower back, creating a convex curve in the back.
Spending a lot of time sitting, also, causes the muscles of the central area of the body to lose their function of collaborating when it comes to maintaining a correct posture (you already have the backrest of the chair that does that without any effort) and shorten certain groups muscles like the hamstrings or the psoas (the shortening of the psoas is one of the most common pathologies in people who spend many hours sitting).
Can the fact of spending a lot of time without getting up from the chair and the consequent shortening of these muscle groups in the back pain so characteristic of sedentary people? Of course: we must bear in mind that our body is formed by muscular chains that interact with each other, not by isolated muscles. What happens in one part of our body has consequences throughout our organism.
Can we fix it with one hour of gym a day?
Health problems, overweight, obesity and sedentary lifestyle are concepts that usually go hand in hand. And sedentary lifestyle, the fact of spending most of the day without moving from our chair, is another of the great evils of our generation. We can think that going out for a half hour a day or going to the gym for three hours a week is going to make us survive the bad effects of sedentary lifestyle, but is this enough?
Training one hour a day does not mean that we are not sedentary: daily physical activity also matters.
There is a big difference between sports practice (which we can do a few times a week, which has an objective in itself and that should be guided by professionals in the sector) and daily physical activity: it will be of little use to spend an hour a day in the gym if the remaining 23 hours of the day were spent without moving sitting on a chair.
It is necessary that to reverse the effects of spending so many hours without moving, we integrate daily physical activity as one of our habits throughout the day.
The day to day of a sedentary person
Think for a moment what a normal day in your life is like: you get out of bed, have breakfast and go to work. To get there, you’ll probably use public transport (where, if you’re lucky, you can sit down) or your own car. You get to work and sit in your chair until lunchtime: give it four or five hours of work in the morning. You go out to eat and, of course, you sit at the table: one more hour sitting until you return to the office and take positions again in front of the computer, another three or four hours.
To return home you sit down again on the bus, subway or car and, when you have finally arrived at your home, you decide to go to the gym for one hour to de-stress. You go home at dinner time and you get ready to watch a couple of episodes of your favourite series sitting on the sofa. It can last between an hour and a half and two hours. At the end of the day, you are tired and in your bed.
Three hours in motion compared to the remaining 21 hours sitting or lying down: the account comes out to pay us.
How long have you been moving? As much you can count about three hours adding the hour of exercise in the gym and the other displacements. Three hours of movement in front of the remaining 21 hours in which you are sitting or sleeping. Seen as a whole, it almost gives vertigo.
That time you spend in the gym cannot compensate for all the time you spend sitting throughout the day: it is necessary to integrate physical activity at different times of our day to day life.
What can I do to avoid the consequences of spending a lot of time sitting?
Begin to be aware that we need to move more in our day to day is the first step towards a life away from the sedentary lifestyle. The truth is that we can do many things to be more active in our day to day life, but it is also a good idea to implement them little by little so that they become part of our lifestyle and do not become only specific changes that we bring out for a month.
Start the day with a little exercise: start moving from early in the morning will not take much time (about ten minutes are enough) and you can see great benefits such as the production of endorphins from early in the day and the de-numbing of your muscles after eight hours of night rest. Put your alarm ten minutes before and spend that time doing some mobility exercises for your joints or a few repetitions of the yoga sun salutation: you do not need much space and your body will thank you.
Walk to your work or use an alternative means of transport such as a bicycle: a bicycle can be a good investment if we talk about urban mobility. If you prefer to walk, you can get off the metro or bus a couple of stops before your destination to add steps in your day to day commute (do you get to the recommended 10,000 daily steps?).
Choose the stairs in front of the elevator: if you go to work by subway, a good way to start moving a bit more is to leave the escalators and opt for the traditional steps. Also, at home or at work, say goodbye to the elevator and choose to go up the stairs, even if it’s only a couple of floors (if you have to go up to the sixth floor, you may want to start walking up only to the second, and then go increasing the floors). This will help you improve the blood circulation of your legs and do some aerobic exercise.
Make your smartwatch or mobile your allies. It is recommended that we get up from our chair every two hours or so for a short walk that we can invest in going to talk with that partner who owes us a report (instead of calling him on the phone) or going to snack on something healthy by midmorning. If you are someone who is completely abstracted once you sit in the chair, a good idea may be to set an alarm on your watch or on your mobile that tells you it’s time to move. If you have a smartwatch, most of them have a “movement reminder” function that invites you to move every so often.
Keep a correct posture while sitting: if you are going to spend a lot of time sitting, at least in a good position. Make sure your back is straight (always respecting the natural curvature of your spine) and resting on the back of the chair. The height of the chair should allow you to support both feet on the floor (avoid crossing one leg over the other) and keep your knees at an angle close to ninety degrees.
Do some stretching in your own desk chair: you do not need to go to the gym to loosen up your muscles, but you can do it at your own desk. Interlace your hands and stretch your arms pushing forward to stretch the upper area of your back, and perform a mobilization of the neck (slowly so you do not get dizzy) to the sides and drawing circles to loosen the area. To improve the circulation of the legs, it is best to get up for a little walk.
In your leisure time, take the opportunity to move more: the culture of “series marathons on weekends” is becoming stronger and stronger, and it is something that many of us love. If you are one of those who stay stuck to the sofa changing episodes, at least get up before the next begins and take the opportunity to move and stretch. So, in addition, you will change your position on the sofa and you will not let it “catch you”.
Of course, integrating physical exercise into our daily routine and eating a healthy diet will also be very helpful in avoiding the consequences that can be left in our bodies in the short and long term by spending many hours sitting.