Stories & news
The Lowdown on Sitting
Bedford experts give tips to combat sedentary life with everyday movement
As a social worker serving clients at Community Health and Wellness in Bedford, Terrie Bowling can spend a lot of time at her desk. When she developed lower back pain a few years ago, her chiropractor suggested her problem was related to time spent sitting, and how those hours behind a desk were affecting her core strength.
He suggested she try sitting on an exercise ball instead of her office chair.
“It does help,” she said. “Sitting on the ball makes the smaller muscles work more, because you have to use them for balance.”
Learning to balance on the ball took a little time, but now Bowling never uses a desk chair and her back pain is gone.
Lower back pain is just one problem that can be caused by sitting. Neck pain, wrist pain, weight gain and leg swelling are just a few difficulties linked to excessive sitting.
But new research into the affects of an idle body suggest that sitting is as bad for your health as smoking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults with desk jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as people with standing jobs. Americans now spend 9.3 hours a day sitting, more time than the average sleep time (7.7 hours a day). Desk jobs keep people from moving during the day, but at night, it’s TV and computers that tie them down.
The idea that sitting is as bad as smoking is an alarming wake-up call, but what to do? Quitting a job isn’t an option for most people, nor is it necessary to train for a marathon.
Angie Stroud, occupational therapist and director of IU Health Bedford’s Rehab and Sports Medicine department, said workers should get up several times a day to add some movement into their work routine.
“We encourage ergo breaks: get up and take a short walk around your work environment, stop and do wrist circles, neck circles. Just standing up after being seated can help,” she said.
Pain in the wrists, neck, arms and back are common work issues, said Stroud.
“We do a lot of instruction on having an ergonomic work station. Making sure the keyboard is at the right height, the chair is at the right height so the feet are flat on floor and elbows at a 90-degree angle.”
For employees who can’t always find time for that quick walk around the office, Stroud suggested marching in place while seated, extending the legs and flexing the feet so the toes are pointed upward and rolling the ankles several times.
As suggested in the book, “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death—and Exercise Alone Won’t” by Joan Vernikos, it’s near constant movement that the body requires to maintain good health.
Trudy Brown of Bedford, a yoga instructor for 40 years, said the issue is a paradox of how progress and technology have made life almost too easy.
“We can’t, nor do we want to, go back to that time when we searched for food, but on the other hand, our bodies have a certain design and purpose,” said Brown.
She said she hoped people wouldn’t become frustrated and feel their lives are futile when it comes to achieving good health because they are sedentary.
“It’s asking us to be more conscious about the body,” she said. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to bring myself health and well being without feeling bad about myself and what I’m doing with my life.’”
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SIT
As soon as you sit:
Electrical activity in leg muscles turns off
Calorie burning drops to 1 per minute
Enzymes that help break down fat drop 90 percent
After two hours of sitting:
Good cholesterol drops 20 percent