Counteracting the Effects of Sitting

For most of my adult life I’ve dealt with an achy back. It started years ago when I worked at a pet store slinging 50 pound bags of pet food all day, and then come home to more physical work.  When I started working at a desk, I found it to be quite a transition from moving constantly to parking myself in front of a computer all day. My aches didn’t improve. I just started getting new aches like a stiff neck and knots in my shoulders.

Around the time when the Apple watch was first released, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that “Sitting is the new cancer”.  It may have just been a ploy to promote the new smartwatch which reminds users to move more often, but there is some truth to what he said. Excessive sitting is hard on the body and is associated with many chronic diseases and conditions, including muscle strains, compressed discs, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, organ damage, and some types of cancer. One study of 794,577 participants detailing various health problems related to sedentary behavior, found the most sedentary people had a 112% increase in the risk of diabetes and a 147% increase in “cardiovascular events”. Those are some grim numbers.

You may be thinking there’s not much you can do about it if you’re required to work at a desk all day. Dealing with some of the negative effects of sitting myself, over the years I’ve researched ways to counteract those effects.

Posture is very important. Keeping a proper posture helps prevent muscle fatigue as your muscles will work more efficiently. There’s a natural tendency to lean forward toward your computer, so you will have to constantly remind yourself to keep good posture. Sit all the way back in your chair, don’t lean forward, keep your shoulders back and relaxed, keep feet flat on the floor, and keep your arms close to your sides. If you use a laptop, elevate it to your eye level.

Try using an exercise ball to force good posture and use of your core muscles. You can alternate between a regular desk chair and the exercise ball to keep some variety. Consider buying a stand-up desk or adjustable height desk to spend the day on your feet. Since they can be expensive, a cheap way to accomplish this is to build a 3 sided box to place on top of your desk. You could also hang a shelf next to your desk wall at a level that is comfortable to you. If you have a laptop, you can move throughout the day between standing at the shelf and sitting at your regular desk.

I actually did buy an Apple watch recently, which reminds me to stand up and take short breaks. A Fitbit or other fitness trackers will accomplish the same task. If you don’t have a tracker or a smartwatch, you can set digital reminders on repeat in your calendar. There are also apps that remind you to move. It’s recommended to stand up at least once an hour. Always try to stand when you’re talking with coworkers or on the phone. An added benefit is that you also will burn more calories when you stand.

Try to exercise every day to counteract your sitting time. Even though some studies have shown that daily gym workouts isn’t enough to make up for the damage sitting causes, the benefits of exercise are endless. If you don’t have time for the gym, take a lunch time walk. Take the stairs instead of elevators.

Stretching is just as important as exercise. It helps by improving flexibility and lengthening tight muscles assisting in correct posture. I like to take yoga classes occasionally to release tension physically and mentally.  Just a short stretching session can calm your mind and give you time to recharge. Focus on the tight areas of your body and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Lower back, chest and shoulder stretches feel great when you spend your day in front of a computer.  One of my favorite neck stretches is to hold the opposite side of my head with my hand, then gently pull towards my shoulders, like the stretch shown to the left. An easy shoulder stretch you could try is rolling your shoulders back and holding your arms back like a goalpost. There are endless other stretches you can try, including these 17 desks stretches or these 6 stretches if you’re stuck sitting all day.

Massage therapy is also a great tool to keep muscles flexible and release toxins. I’m lucky to get massages often from a great practice in La Plata New Moon Bodywork and Botanicals. If you don’t want to see a massage therapist, there are also self massager tools that are portable. I like using the Backnobber, which reaches the knot in my shoulder like nothing else can. Foam rollers are also great for smoothing out muscles.

The Washington Post published an informative graphic poster of the health hazards of sitting. You can print it out and hang it by your desk to remind yourself to practice good habits.

Remember…. The greatest wealth is your good health!

Post written by Fawn Kildoo