Despite the fact that human beings are built to move, studies show that we’re sitting far too much and engaging in far too little physical activity, at a cost.
Australia’s National Health Survey 2020-21 indicated that nearly half (49.4%) of employed people aged 18-64 years described their work-day as mostly sitting. What’s more, only one in 4 (24.5%) people aged 18-64 years met the recommended physical activity guidelines.
What is all this sitting doing to us?
Compromised cardiovascular health, increased cancer risk, sluggish metabolism, increased weight, decreased blood circulation, and poor overall mental health are just some of the issues related to sitting for long hours.
Here’s how sitting also complicates the functioning of each part of our musculo-skeletal system:
- Neck: When we sit to read or look at a screen, we tend to hold our neck out forward or downward, moving it out of its natural alignment.
- Trapezius muscle: Sitting hunched at a desk also strains the trapezius muscle, which connects the shoulders and the upper back and holds the neck up in place.
- Back: As muscles of the shoulders and neck get strained, the whole back starts to arch forward, with the lower back bearing the brunt. The intervertebral discs start to bulge, becoming strained.
- Hips, glutes, and legs: As we sit for longer hours, our hip flexor muscles shorten and our large leg and gluteal muscles weaken, making us more prone to strains and injury.
- Kneecaps and feet: As our hips weaken from the excessive sitting, our legs collapse inward, putting pressure on the kneecaps and eventually causing the feet to flatten.
What can moving more do for you?
Simply by moving more, you can address most of the damage caused by a sedentary lifestyle. A movement-based lifestyle has the potential to reduce stress, improve sleep, reduce risk of various illnesses, aid healing, and improve mental well-being. It can also improve muscle tone, bone strength, and joint health, and reduce stiffness.
If moving more sounds daunting, here’s how to get started
The Department of Health and Aged Care recommends 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity every week, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.
If you are unused to physical activity or suffer from any chronic conditions or musculoskeletal issues, consult your doctor or chiropractor before embarking on an exercise program.
Always warm up and stretch before starting an exercise routine, and cool down and stretch afterward too.
Include these into your movement practice:
- Aerobics: Depending on your fitness level, health conditions, and energy levels, add moderate to vigorous aerobic activity into your schedule.
- Strength training: At least 2 days each week, include muscle-strengthening activities like push ups, pull-ups, squats or lunges. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises also help to strengthen bones.
- Flexibility and balance: To improve flexibility, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends incorporating stretches into your fitness routine 2 or 3 days a week. Balance training is essential to avoid falls, so include activities like backward walking, sideways walking, heel walking, and toe walking in your routine.
In some cases, sitting constantly may have already reduced your ability to move. You may be suffering from pain, tensed muscles, and reduced mobility. A visit to your chiropractor could help you tackle this, through adjustments that reduce pain or improve movement and balance.
A final note: practise mindful sitting
Besides adding more movement, examine how much and where you sit – at home, in the car, on a plane, in an office or classroom – and come up with active alternatives.
If you’re usually sitting in front of the TV, use an exercise machine while watching your favorite show. If you spend a lot of time seated reading, try audiobooks. If you tend to sit with your friends and family for a chat, opt for activities like walks or billiards that also let you socialise. Your chiropractor could help you figure out such alternatives while also correcting the damage from the unavoidable sedentary activities you engage in.