Don’t Just Sit There!
Categories: Bodywork & Somatics
But maybe you don’t: In 2010, a revealing prospective study on the detrimental effects of sitting—that looked through the histories of nearly 100,000 individuals—concluded that people who sat more than 6 hours a day had a 40% increased risk of premature death compared with those who sat for fewer than 3 hours (Patel et al. 2010)1. Furthermore, it was suggested that even intense exercise is not enough to counteract these risk factors if you still spend the bulk of your day sitting!
Sitting is a relaxed hip flexion position: relaxed, because the hip flexor muscles are not working against resistance (contracting)—they are merely in a flexed state, with the full weight of the torso above seated into the pelvic floor, and the lower extremities inactive. It is a position which, if held too long, will inhibit circulation, muscle conditioning, and even nerve response. It can be a direct cause of lower back, psoas, and sciatic issues; the hip flexors begin to shorten and weaken, and over time create a myriad of problems.
However, you don’t have to just sit there all day. If you have a desk job or spend much of your day sitting, there are many common-sense approaches for dealing with the increasingly devastating problem of too much hip flexion:
- If sitting, get up once every hour and stretch in all directions
- Design a computer space where you can stand while working—make sure the monitor is at eye level
- Take a pilates or yoga class (this involves hip flexion, but it is counteracted by stretching)
- Play video games that involve body movement
- Go for a walk
- Adjust your posture
- Do some deep diaphragmatic breathing
- Sit less and move more
If you work in an office, speak with your manager or HR department about creating healthier workspaces. Check out The Ergonomic Human’s office desk/keyboard/chair height calculator to make sure you know your baseline ideal desk height and configuration. A standing desk is a sure way to keep your body active while doing desk work. If you think you’ll meet resistance on account of the cost, here are some affordable standing desk hacks (many of the parts can be found at your local IKEA) for a cheap and easy fix.
If you want to know exactly why sitting is so detrimental to your core (and health overall), read this brief excerpt from Functional Anatomy of the Pilates Core on how sitting is a repetitive micro-trauma:
Repetitive traumas refer to the repetitive things we do every single day, as well as the way that we perform these activities. These repetitive activities often lead to micro-traumas of the soft tissues of the body when they are performed with poor stabilization and/or beyond tissue tolerance. The micro-traumas may not necessarily create problems right away, but over time the cumulative effect will take its toll.
One of the most common culprits and best examples of micro-trauma in our modern society is sitting. Consider the length of time most of the population sit during the day. They sit to go to work, sit at work, and sit on the way home from work. Then at home, they sit while eating dinner or watching television before they go to bed. The bulk of their day is spent in the seated position.
Why does sitting have such a detrimental effect on our core function? While a significant part of the problem is related to the amount of time spent in a seated posture, many of the effects associated with sitting actually have to do with how these individuals are sitting.
It is often said that increased sitting leads to common postural dysfunctions, such as an anterior pelvic tilt, and muscle imbalances that favor shortening of the hip flexors and lumbar erectors and over-lengthening of the glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals.
The underlying problem with the prolonged flexed sitting posture is that over time the soft tissue structures, including ligaments, joint capsules, and fascia, will slowly deform and elongate—a process referred to as creep. Prolonged flexion of the lumbar spine also causes the nucleus pulposus—the fluid-containing center of the disc—to migrate posteriorly. The posterior migration of the nucleus pulposus, combined with elongation of the supportive tissues, places the spinal discs in a disadvantaged position. This is a common cause of disc injury that eventually contributes to bulging and/or herniation.
Moreover, with overstretching of these soft tissue structures there is less ability to stiffen the joint when required, placing the individual at a greater risk of joint instability and therefore of joint or soft tissue injury when postural loading is prolonged or as the tissues become more active. This is why an important part of corrective strategy has to include teaching clients how to sit more ideally, otherwise they may return to old patterns of sitting and can literally undo all the work they have done in their Pilates sessions.
When individuals spend too much time in spinal flexion, and/or overdo spinal flexion exercises (like Roll-Up, Teaser, and Hundreds), there is a potential for overstretching the posterior soft tissue structure and for disc injuries. This is especially common in individuals who spend much of their day sitting and/or standing in posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar spine flexion.
- Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172 (4): 419-429. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq155. First published online: July 22, 2010