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Tag Archives: Sitting is the New Smoking

pupilOur bodies are designed to move…in lots of different ways.
But what do we do mostly?
Sit.

Sitting, especially for extended periods, creates pairs of tight and weak muscles in the neck, shoulders, hips, knees and feet that can result in pain and injury. Even fit people who sit often are prone to health problems.

Combat sitting by

Step 1a. Move (every day)
Step 1b. Move (from the desk every 25-60 minutes)
Step 2. Be aware (know where you are tight and weak)
Step 3. Move differently (shake it up and break habits)
Step 4. Repeat (over and over)

Share your anti-sitting tips below!

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don't just sit there woman slumped at computer
Sunday, I wrote about the article that sent me down a rabbit hole of research about the negative effects of sitting for extended periods. Today, I offer a 4-step strategy for combating the downsides of modern life in a chair that I’ve been playing with for years:

Step 1a & 1b. Move and Move
Step 2. Be aware
Step 3. Move differently
Step 4. Repeat

You may get the idea from that but perhaps it would be helpful to shed more light on my 4-step strategy:

Step 1a. Move

Your body is designed to move. Please. For the love of Pete. Move. Every day. Some way. Move. Get your body mobile in a way that feels good to you. Even 20-30 minutes of movement is better than skipping it altogether. Move Every Day.

Step 1b. Move

When you’re sitting, take breaks. Every 20-25 minutes, get up, stretch, get some water or tea (this helps in two ways: the fluids hydrate you and they’ll make you have to pee which is another way to take a break from sit-sit-sitting). Do everything you can to not sit longer than an hour without a break.

Step 2. Be aware

Knowledge is power and observation can be revelatory. Understand the cycle of tight and weak that surround extended sitting. Observe how you sit and notice what parts of you are overworking (tight) and what parts are underworking (weak). Notice where you feel stiff when you get up from your desk or out of the car. Low back pain may be a result of weak abs and butt with tight hip flexors and hamstrings. Upper back or shoulder pain may stem from overworked chest and neck muscles and underworked rhomboids. Check it out. See what’s happening. Armed with your awareness, go on to step 3.

Step 3. Move differently

Not only is the body designed to move, it’s designed to move in a multitude of ways. Move your body in lots of them. If, in Step 1a, you like to walk or run, play with doing it in different ways: walk on rocky paths as well as paved, run up hills or steps and not just on flat surfaces, swim different strokes, bike off road as well as on. Your body loves variety so experiment with different kinds of yoga, different fitness classes, different sports, and different styles. In Step 2, you may have noticed that your chest needs stretching or your glutes need strengthening to create more balance in your body. Use what you notice about your own body to make informed choices about movements that will strengthen what’s weak and lengthen what’s tight.

Step 4. Repeat

Keep doing it. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Replace the word “excellence” with “health” or “ease” or anything else you want to create in your life and you can see that this is not a 3-month plan or something you can check off your list.

Move, Be Aware, Move Differently. Over and over. As long as you possibly can. With a little luck and commitment, that will be longer than if you don’t.

don't just sit there woman sitting on bench“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” – Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative

As a movement educator, avid yogi, biker and hiker, it’s safe to say that I’m active. Even so, I’m amazed at how much time I spend sitting ~ at my desk, in my car, at the table, watching movies. It’s kind of stunning.

A couple of weeks ago, my yoga teacher posted an article about the muscular ramifications of prolonged sitting. This brilliant article (please read it, it’s full of great information and helpful visuals) outlines how muscles compensate for the sitting for long stretches leaving some muscles tight (and overworked) and some muscles weak (and underworked). It’s called the Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS) and Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS) and the criss-crosses of tight and weak muscles result in shoulder, hip/lower back, knee and foot pain. (The article does a brilliant job of explaining the details of the muscles involved and the anatomical consequences, so I won’t recount them all here. Go read it!) Understanding the UCS and the LCS helps me see clearly why I’ve had issues in my shoulder, knee and even gives insights into the plantar fasciitis I occasionally grapple with.

The body is designed to move but our culture is designed to sit. Even fit folks are sitting a lot during the course of an average day. The UCS/LCS piece sparked my curiosity to look into the other consequences of extended sitting. What with the wonder of the World Wide Interwebs, it took me about 30 seconds to come across the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” (the phrase’s coiner, Dr. James Levine, is quoted above) and then to be inundated with articles and research about the health risks of sitting.

Holy first-world health hazards, people. Sitting increases the risk for obesity, muscular issues and joint pain, sure, but it’s not just that. Cancer. Heart disease. Diabetes. Depression. More. It’s a mess, I tell you. Sitting a lot makes a mess. (The phenomenon is fascinating in a frightening kind of way. If you’re interested in reading some more, you can find them here, here, and here but you’ve got the Interwebs, you can find even more, if you’re so inclined.)

So if extended sitting sets up not just structural imbalances but systemic health hazards AND if sitting is an inextricable part of life, what’s a person to do? In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about my personal strategy for combatting the tight, the weak, and the sad, sorry ails of sitting.

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