How sitting can affect your health and performance
Many of us are constantly static for most of the day. We sit at our desk at work, sit in our cars on the way back home then sit down in front the TV. Brief periods of sitting is natural after a tough day of activity but long periods of sitting day in, day out can seriously impact your health and performance.
Our bodies are designed for regular movement and when we are stuck in the same position for hours day after day, we begin to slowly reset our body’s natural posture to accommodate. The disks in our back are meant to expand and contract while you move, allowing them to absorb blood and nutrients. But sitting puts pressure on your spine and compresses the disks, which decreases our flexibility and can lead to an increased risk of back pain and herniated disks. As we sit, especially at a computer, our shoulders roll inwards as our head and neck lean forward, leading to neck strains, sore shoulders and back. Hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings also become weak and tight causing limited range of motion. Sitting for long periods has also been shown to have adverse effects on the heart, pancreas and digestive system and may increase the risk of certain cancers.
When you have good posture, either sitting or standing, you should be as tall as possible. Your ears should be in line with hips, and over the top of your knees and ankles. Your shoulders should be in a neutral position (not rolled forward) and you should feel tall. Try to imagine a string attached to the top of your head and you’re being pulled upwards.
Poor posture can not only affect our health but from an athletic point of view, it can also affect our performance. Positioning in exercise is crucial for maximum force output, energy conservation and safety. A common issue with poor standing posture is a lack of core tension – that means with a relaxed stomach and butt sticking out. In this poor position we don’t have the ability to transfer force effectively, which also makes the spine vulnerable to injury. An athlete in a good position tends to remain injury free as poor posture adds strain to the body in unnatural ways, forcing us to move accordingly.
So what can you do to combat these adverse effects of sitting? Well, increasing the amount of exercise should be the first thing you do. It sounds simple, just get up and move! But the reality can be harder to get used to for some so here are a few tips to increase your physical movement:
- Use an exercise ball instead of an office chair. This will engage your core muscles and helps improve balance and flexibility
- Set a timer to remind yourself to stand up and move about or stretch for at least 10 minutes each hour.
- Walk or cycle to work or use the stairs instead of elevators/escalators
- Foam rolling. This is a great way to alleviate those knots that develop while sitting for long periods.