Sitting is the new smoking. You have probably heard that recently. The phrase was coined by Dr. James Levine an endocrinologist, researcher, and director of the Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. He made the statement after seeing that there is a large body of evidence that both scientific and anectodal and relate excessive sitting with many of the preventable disease that are killing Americans making it perfectly comparable to tobacco use.
Another term you may have heard recently is the "active couch potato." I was first introduced to this idea after reading an article published in Exercise Sports Science Review titled "Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior." In which basically the argument is made that excessive sitting and a lack of exercise are independent problems that do not necessarily have to exist in tandem. The idea being that a lot of people who get an hour of exercise a day that may be considered moderate to high intensity exercise may still be in fact unhealthy and sedentary because they spend the rest of their day sitting or sleeping.
The concept was somewhat eye opening in the fact that basically everyone who thought they were doing something good for their health and improving their longevity was in fact just spinning their wheels and negating the benefits due to their overall lack of activity.
I think this makes a lot of sense logically as well. We people always say "you are what you do most" which makes since, but then why would we ever believe that we could sit for 8 to 10 hours a day, but be considered healthy in shape because we move from an hour during the time we are awake. We have been fooling ourselves and sitting is becoming the undoing of all our efforts.
The important thing here is to see that excessive sitting is it's own problem not lack of exercise. Sitting is the epitome of sedentary behavior and if you spend more time sitting than anything else I would consider your lifestyle sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked with the following:
- High blood pressure.
- High blood sugar.
- Abnormal cholesterol levels (granted total cholesterol doesn't mean much, but if we dig deeper we might find more concerning problems with our blood lipids).
- Excessive body fat around the waist.
- 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause.
- 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease.
"What you are trying to tell me here Stevan is that sitting is bad for me, right?"
Yes I am trying to make the point that spending to much time sitting is bad for your overall health because it leads to an overall sedentary lifestyle.
Also I want to tell you that sitting for prolonged periods of time isn't good for your musculoskeletal health either and not just because your sitting it's because your holding one static posture for a prolonged period of time. This leads to shortening and over activity of some muscles and lengthening and weakening of other muscles. This in turn can cause you all kinds of pains in the ass when trying to train or partake in athletic events.
At some point in your life someone probably counseled you on what the best posture is, but the truth of the matter is there isn't really any one best posture. The best posture is one that is constantly changing, but in the world we exist today this isn't always possible due to the constraints work puts on us or the work that we perform.
That being said however we can alternate between postures periodically and we can assume the postures in a way that pays homage to the anatomy and physiology of our bodies.
By doing this we can reduce the impact any one posture may have our musculoskeletal health and we can reduce our time engaged in sedentary activity thus improving our overall health as well.
In my mind for most people there are three good options for postures that can be used while at work: sitting, kneeling, and standing. The most common is always going to be sitting not only because it is most people's default, but some research shows that for more cognitively demanding tasks performance is better while sitting. This would explain why working in a standing position may feel easier when filling out expense reports or entering data compared to how strenuous it feels when trying to compose an email, brainstorm product creation, or put together a presentation.
This means we need to be able to sit and we need to be able to do it well. Below is a video of me demonstrating how you can get organized to sit properly.
As you can probably imagine you may look like the odd ball at the office, but taking the time to set up this way prior to sitting and resetting your position this way every 15 minutes will pay off. Plus your back, shoulders, and neck will thank you dearly.
After you obtain the basics for sitting properly you can then begin to explore ways to make your seated position more varied and dynamic throughout the time you spend seated. You can adjust the heigh of your seat. You can sit with one crossed over the other giving you a chance to stretch your hips a bit.
You can sit below 90 degrees or above 90 degrees.
You can sit with one leg extended and the other bent.
You can sit with your knees out and feet flat not he floor.
The idea is to find ways to change or alter the sitting position so that your body is getting only one stimulus all the time.
The second most common and probably most accessible posture for most people at work is the standing position. Most work places will allow people to stand and a standing desk can be configured out of just about anything if you don't want to shell out for an expensive piece of furniture. I put a couple of my own creations below.
Once you adjust your environment to allow working in a standing position the next difficulty to overcome is how to stand correctly. Below is a video of how to get organized in a good position while standing.
Granted just like with sitting you will have to reset this position every so often and you may get some odd looks from co-workers, but trust me your back, shoulders, and neck will thank you in the long run. Plus you will move and perform much better outside of the workplace as well.
As with sitting don't be afraid to play around with the standing posture a bit as well. You can put one foot in front of the other while standing and take turns sitting into either hip.
You can use a wide stance or narrow stance.
You can elevate one foot to work on some hip flexion and external rotation. The purpose again being to provide more than one stimulus for your tissues to adapt to.
Not to mention that standing is no where near a sedentary activity like some may think. Although you may be staying in one place EMG activity of postural muscles is much higher in a standing position and does place an energy demand on your body that isn't really comparable to that of sitting.
Alternating between periods of sitting and standing at work will probably be enough to reduce the effects of excessive sitting and finally get you out of a sedentary lifestyle. Not to mention it will reduce the impact one posture has on your ability to move and perform. You will probably come to find that there are some tasks in your workday that are done better while sitting and others while standing this is a great way to make sure you are getting enough alteration as you can switch positions as you switch tasks.
However for some there may be a third option to consider while working if you can make yourself comfortable enough doing it. That is kneeling. This position can take a number of different forms including just plain old kneeling, tall kneeling, or half kneeling as shown below.
If the floor is pretty rough where you work I would consider bringing in a kneeling pad of some kind even just a blanket that has been folded over several times to get your knees some padding.
Then as we discussed with sitting and standing you can adjust the positions to vary the stimulus. You can place your feet a little wider or narrower than your knees or abduct the up leg to the side in a half kneeling position. Simply just exploring different positions while you work.
Granted all of this takes effort in order to prepare your work place to allow you to move positions, but the return on your investment will be huge.
The take away here is that the goal for us should be to avoid excessive prolonged time in anyone position and especially a seated one. This will help reduce the impact our workday has on our overall health and performance which will in turn although has to live longer, enjoy life more, and be more productive while we work.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training