The human body was designed to move, but many of us sit for 8 hours or more each day. On the surface, it is pretty obvious that sitting is not great for us - we can directly feel the effect of this position on the body when various muscles become sore, uncomfortable or tight the longer we remain in this static pose. Many clients who come into my clinic report low back, neck, wrist and elbow pain symptoms that are made worse by the endless hours they spend at their desks each day.
Aches and pains in the body are not the only effects on the body incurred by sitting. Research dating back to the 1950s, like J. N. Morris and Margaret D. Crawford's 1958 study "Coronary Heart Disease and Physical Activity of Work," has shown that people in sedentary jobs are at higher risk for coronary artery disease. More recently, studies have demonstrated higher risk of heart attacks, cancer and overall mortality rates in those people who sit for more than six hours a day. Many of these studies, which involved large sample sizes (more than 15,000), were conducted over a 12-year period.
It may be that a certain protein in the body is responsible for some of these findings. There is an enzyme in the body (lipoprotein lipase) that signals the body to use fat as fuel. A 2008 study showed that when rats are not allowed to stand - simulating a sedentary environment - there is a very dramatic drop in this enzyme. This may be why sitting causes elevated blood triglyceride levels and may account for the connection between sitting and cardiovascular disease.
From a muscle and joint perspective, the sitting posture can lead to shortening of various muscle groups that are key for optimal movement. When these muscles are repeatedly maintained in a shortened position, poor posture, muscle imbalance, weakening of muscles and injury can result, especially if we exercise or participate in sports without preparing the body for movement.
Many people believe that if they exercise, it will counter the negative effects of sitting. Some of the research has looked at this factor and unfortunately found that exercise only had a small effect on the negative consequences of sitting.
Remember, the human body was designed to MOVE. I encourage my clients to incorporate as much movement as they can throughout the day. It is also imperative to remember what your body has been doing all day before engaging in physical activity after work. Take time to stretch and move the body around as you prepare for sport or activities.
To learn more about movement and stretching, join us at Align Vail in Edwards on Wednesday at 6 p.m. for a one-hour workshop on effective stretching techniques. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-281-9885.
Laina Eskin is a physical therapist and owner of Align Vail in Edwards. She specializes in Corrective Movement Therapy, which is a methodology used to treat pain, dysfunction or imbalance in the body that helps restore optimal and efficient movement.