Why sitting for too long is hurting you

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Modern lifestyles are increasingly leading us towards a highly sedentary lifestyle. For many of us, our days are mostly spent in a seated position. We sit in the commute. We sit behind the desk at work. And to relax at home, we sit in front of the TV for a few hours at a stretch. Imagine the compounded effects of all that sitting!

We have all heard the phrase “Use it, or lose it.” It is repeated for a reason, because it is true! Those of you who exercises regularly know just how quickly you can lose your strength and fitness when you take just a week off regular training. Sitting doesn’t engage much of your muscles. All it does is to poorly load them, which lead to stresses, strains, pain, and loss of muscle mass.

It is well known that exercise produces the “happy hormones” endorphin. Simply moving more produces the same results too. When you are stationary for too long, guess what – your endorphins level drops too.

Now the really bad news: Just as exercise doesn’t counteract the effects of eating junk food, exercise also doesn’t counteract the effects of sitting! This means that although you are likely to reduce some of the negative effects by exercising regularly, it doesn’t mean you can sit the rest of the day because the negative effects of sitting increase in proportion to the amount of time you sit.

Not convinced yet? Here’s a list of some common side effects of sitting for an extended period of time, and how it can impact on your fitness training!


side effects of sitting for too long

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NECK TIGHTNESS
Looking in one direction (i.e. at the computer screen, the TV, or your mobile phone) for a prolonged period can reduce your range of movement. This can lead to tight muscles especially when turning your neck, and affect your performance in team sports, swimming, driving, and even sleeping. The constant “pain in the neck” or headache is a common ailment affecting many people in our society – the next time you are on the MRT, just look around to see how many people are looking down at their phones! Muscle tightness limits your body’s range of movement, and impact on your ability to generate maximum force in weights training.

SHOULDER PAIN AND/OR "CLICKING"
Rounding and pushing your shoulders forward as you type on your keyboard makes the muscles at the front of your body tighter, which worsens your slouching even more. Most people will get stiffness and pain on the outside of the shoulders, or around the shoulder blades as they are constantly being pulled forwards. Your shoulders eventually get weaker and go out of position. You know that feeling when you sleep awkwardly and wake up stiff? Well that is what you are doing to your body when sitting poorly.

ELBOW AND WRIST ACHES AND FATIGUE
In today’s modern age we are constantly engaged on our electronic and mobile devices. We are typing on the keyboard, scrolling social media on the phone, or playing games on the tablet. The wrists and elbows are being used more than ever in these limited positions that constantly engage the hand and wrist muscles. No wonder they are such a common area to have a repetitive strain injury!
 

3 simple ways to make a change

Now that we know how long hours of sitting poorly can affect us physically and mentally, what can be done instead?

  1. Stand up and move every 45 minutes. You know the feeling when you feel like wriggling in your chair, or perhaps lean your body to one side– that is your body telling you to GET UP! Don’t just shift in your chair, get up and stretch or go for a walk. If you are short on time, even just standing up and down again in your seat helps to give your body a quick reset. Set an alarm or reminder to get up from your seat regularly.
 Infographic:  WOLMED

Infographic: WOLMED

  1. Consider a standing desk. As companies are placing more importance on staff wellness, many are open to the idea of improving ergonomics. There are many types of standing desks available on the market that allows you to adjust the height of the desk with a touch of a button. You don’t have to work standing up all day, changing it up is the key.
     
  2. Make sure you are sitting properly. If a standing desk isn’t an option for now, use the following steps as a guide on how to sit properly:
    • Sit right to the back of your chair (ideally maintain a 2-inch gap between the edge of the seat and the back of your knees)
    • Raise your chair to an appropriate height so that when you are tucked in, you are able to use the keyboard with your elbows relaxed at a 90-degrees angle on the armrests. If your feet are dangling, deter the urge to sit forward to plant your feet on the floor. Because as soon as you sit forward, you lose the back support and will soon slouch. Instead, you can place a low box as a footrest below your feet to create the ideal 90-degrees bend at your knees.
    • Pull yourself close in to the desk. At this position, your chair’s armrests slip underneath the desk. If you are too far away, you will constantly be leaning your body forward in an unbalanced angle to use the keyboard.
    • Bring your monitor closer! Stop leaving a nice clear space in front of you that is rarely needed – bring your keyboard and monitor closer to you, so you don’t end up leaning your body and neck closer to the screen as you concentrate or become tired.
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If you spend a good part of your day seated behind a desk, and am experiencing constant aches and and muscle tightness, you might want to visit a physiotherapist to do an in-depth ergonomic assessment to find out if imbalances in your posture and balance are causing these issues.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Lamprey is Senior Physiotherapist at UFIT Clinic. She has a B.Sc. (Hons) in Physiotherapy from the University of Southampton, as well as a Masters of Manual Therapy from The University of Western Australia. Lucie has worked with a wide range of clients, including people who are new to exercise, those with pre-existing medical conditions, to recreational and competitive elite athletes.

Lucie specialises in sports injury rehabilitation and injury prevention, with a focus on the spine, pelvis, and lower limbs. She is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), with extensive exercise knowledge to develop exercise programs for athletes with comorbidities. Other areas of expertise include managing acute or chronic pre and post-natal conditions, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, and dry-needling for musculoskeletal conditions.