Shitika Anand finds out why we need to spend less time sitting
You’re probably sitting down reading this. And, if you’re not, you definitely shouldn’t until you’ve finished. And you might not want to after we tell you that sitting is just as harmful as smoking.
The World Health Organisation says that physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for death worldwide. The full effect of prolonged physical inactivity also depends on your diet and even your genes, says physiotherapist Melissa Booyens.
As most jobs require you to be seated in front of a computer screen for long stretches of time, this is pretty bad news, especially as the result of doing so can be devastating. “Our muscles don’t have the endurance to keep us up straight for hours on end, so slumping forwards is easier,” Booyens explains. “Being in a rounded posture for that time can actually shorten and weaken certain muscles, and the spine changes as a result. If this position is constantly maintained, the result is likely to be a permanently rounded posture, which can eventually lead to decreased oxygen intake.”
Rounding the upper back and hyper-extending the neck is the worst seated posture of all, Booyens says, which can “lead to muscle tension headaches, postural changes and muscle weakening”.
If packing in your desk job isn’t a realistic option (we feel you), Booyens recommends changing your lifestyle habits when you don’t have to be seated. “You should be getting up and moving every hour, even if it’s to get some water in the kitchen, and do breathing exercises – fill your lungs all the way to the diaphragm,” she says.
“Make sure you have a good ergonomic chair. It should have lumbar support and should be positioned so that your knees are bent, forming a 90-degree angle with the floor.”
Her other tips to reduce sitting time include doing neck and shoulder stretches while sitting, standing while reading and exercising on a daily basis.
“Our body is made to move. We have a type of joint called the synovial joint, with synovial fluid that lubricates our joints. This fluid is only created when we move,” she says.