“Sitting is the new smoking” has become quite the buzz phrase lately, as numerous sources show the correlation between spending hours sitting at a desk and risk of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It’s a scary thought, considering so many of us are bound to our desks and chairs for hours upon hours while we work, commute or even to relax — when our bodies were never meant to do so. From brain fog, lack of focus, drop in metabolism, poorer circulation and breathing, muscle imbalances and degenerating posture, the effects of sitting have truly become the “silent killers” of today.
As humans, we are primed to move. Yet urbanization, technology, and workplace norms have resulted in our physical stagnation. We have become sedentary, physically inactive creatures, and this comes at a cost. Being in practice for over 20 years, I too have seen the shift in recent years from patients experiencing neck and back pain from physical labor and strains from over-activity to now experiencing chronic pain, stiffness and lack of mobility from sitting for far too long daily.
The worst part is, most of the damages acquired from sitting for too long are not reversible by exercise alone—meaning that we can’t undo sitting by hitting the gym for an hour every day. Don’t get me wrong though, we DO need to work out and focus on our cardio, strength, mobility, and flexibility but getting in the habit of changing positions and moving is key!
Here are 8 things you can add to your daily habits to make sure that you minimize the effects of daily sitting:
- Get a sit-stand desk: Adjustable sit-stand desks are currently one of the best alternatives to traditional office desks. Sitting desks are usually cookie-cutter in sense of size so they’re not suitable for each individual. Standing desks allow you to adjust the height based on the person’s position, which can really alleviate pain and improve posture while increasing the blood flow. The one complaint I typically hear is that people feel tense in their lower back after standing for too long. For this, I suggest getting an anti-fatigue mat. Standing up also increases productivity, as well as works core muscles, burns more calories, improves posture, and ramps up metabolism. Employees are opting for adjustable stand-up desks, leaning desks, and treadmill desks as ways to be less sedentary at their job.
- Try active sitting: “Active sitting” is when we use sitting tools to help us engage our core as we sit. Exercise ball chairs and wobbly stools are excellent ways to make your sitting active. While a core exercise routine is great, it can’t make up for the lost opportunity of having spent eight hours of the day using your core very little. Even during light activity, such as balancing our posture, we’re engaging our core and back to keep us upright much more than we are just sitting against the back of a chair.
- Perform balance training and mobility: In addition to your regular exercise routine, perform regular mobility training to ensure you have a full range of motion in your muscles that are kept in the same position for long hours. Working your posterior chain with exercises such as back extensions, good mornings and even performing shoulder and peck mobility can help counteract the damage done by sitting in a flexion position.
- Move every 20 mins: Taking breaks regularly when working may be one of the easiest and efficient ways to negate the negative effects of prolonged sitting. We often underestimate the power of even short bursts of movement for improving circulation and giving our body a bit of a reset. Taking a few moments to go for a few-minute walk, stretching, lunging, moving your arms or ankles in circles may make a world of a difference in your attention, focus and even physical strain.
- Fidget more often: Although you may have been scolded for being too fidgety as a child, research now shows that those who fidget or have “micro-movements” while they’re sedentary are actually healthier than their non-fidgety counterparts! A growing body of evidence suggests that non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT, for short) — which consists of small amounts of movement — has the capacity to use energy, increase caloric output and boost metabolism in comparison to those who do not exert any movement. Tapping your foot or doing calf raises at your standing desk are good examples of NEAT movements.
- Trick yourself into moving more: We’ve all heard ways of adding more activity into our days like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away and walking, or even going on walking meetings. Although cliché, these seemingly insignificant efforts can add up quite a bit in the long run, helping you squeeze more active time into your busy schedule.
- Get a step tracker: I always say what can’t be measured can’t be changed, so tracking exactly how much movement you’re currently exerting with a wearable device or it may be a good start to understanding your baseline and how it can be improved. Calories expended and number of steps are good measures. Devices like smartwatches or the Oura Ring can easily measure. *Note: since I’m not a huge fan of electromagnetic fields emitted by many of these devices, I would suggest keeping them on airplane mode to prevent too much unnecessary exposure.
- Get an Ergonomic assessment: Whether you work from home or at an office, it is important to ensure that your workstation best fits you. This can include everything from the height of your desk or chair to where your monitor is placed to the size of your keyboard. Opt for getting an ergonomic assessment done by a professional who can help you customize a workstation that accommodates your needs and ensures that you aren’t putting more strain on your body than you have to.
Sitting may be the new smoking, but only if you allow it to be! Try out some of the steps above and protect yourself against the hazards of a sedentary lifestyle.