Sitting has been called the new smoking(1) because of the growing understanding of the s negative impact extended sitting places on our health and well-being. Due to changes in how life is lived day to day over the years it can be argued a “movement starvation” has been developing over the last several decades. This movement starvation can be seen as the diminished amount, quality and variety of movement that is built into the fabric of our day to day lives.
Technology, the mechanization of the work we do and all the sitting we do in work and leisure activity are major factors that have lead us to this point.
At present so many of us are spending hours upon our in Zoom or similar online conferencing platforms working or studying from home with little respite. There is less opportunity built into this lifestyle that offers meaningful break from sitting. Even as thing may change in some ways many of these online mechanisms and the movement limitations they present will remain with us.
Dr Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. on the Mayo Clinic website offers this summation of the effects of so much sitting in our lives:
“Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.” (2.)
We will add that with so much sitting in our lives it is not at all surprising that increasingly limited and dysfunctional posture and movement patterns develop that impact our movement comfort and health. The template or image of ourselves that outlines the degree within which we are able to stand and move comfortably and safely is reduced in is comparison to what is considered healthy and optimal. Most significantly this process is one is conditioned in our neuromuscular system over a period of time. For most it develops and establishes its hold on us without our awareness, That is until we try to move out of this template.
A body and mind that has habituated strongly to a certain compromised. posture and movement patterns with long times spent sitting will, in service of keeping us safe and stable, resist and inhibit activity that takes us out of this pattern. Tight hip flexors, rounded backs or over arched backs, shoulders and head stuck forward are just some of of the postural conditions that may develop over months and years of habitual sitting.
All this can translate into chronic muscular strain and tensions, headaches, fatigue, back and joint pain, carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries. When joints and backs are locked into positions of decreased range, action and strength (our limited template) pain and injury can result when we are asked to move unconsciously in non habitual ways.
As Dr Laskowsky tells us, research is mixed on whether traditional exercise can address these concerns(3). From the perspective of a Yoga and movement therapist it is more of an issue finding and adding proper motion into our lives. The movement nutrition that will feed movement starvation is that which address lost abilities to sit, stand and move in ways that are in accordance with our how the brain and body build(or rebuild) itself in accordance with our design. Layering traditional weight bearing types of exercise over compromised movement mechanics without addressing those problems is an ill advised but quite common tendency A posturism to sum this up is “straighten, then strengthen”.
Still, as ominous as all this may seem, awareness of the problem is key. From there simple lifestyle add ons and adjustments can be part of the solution. Dr Leskowsky suggests a few that include:
- Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
- Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
- Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
- If you work at a desk, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.(4)
In a general sense finding other pattern expanding activities such as taking opportunities to walk with friends, standing and walking while using the phone, parking further away from your destinations and using stairs rather than elevators help in the moment and rebuild a mindset of activity and movement above convenience and expediency.
When the problems of Motion Starvation and our sedentary lifestyle coalesce into those more difficult and persistent pain and movement challenges and these simple solutions may not be adequate on their own. It may be additional steps resolve them are necessary.
For many, taking time to seek Yoga and movement classes or individual Yoga and movement education therapies more specifically designed to give what is needed to restore lost abilities, optimize posture and movement
1.) Is sitting the new Smoking?. The Heart Foundation Blog? 2.) What are the risks of sitting too much?, Edward R. Laskowski, M.D.from the Mayo Clinic Website 3.) What are the effects of sitting so much Edward R, Laskowsky, MD from the Mayo Clinic Website 4.) What are the effects of sitting so much Edward R, Laskowsky, MD from the Mayo Clinic Website