Move, move, move!

Clinic owner Kerri Stone has been looking into problems caused by long periods sitting down and discovers that simply sitting is not as innocuous as it might appear…

In the clinic, we often see people with neck, mid or low back pain, who have very sedentary lifestyles. They might sit all day at work, even taking lunch at their desk. They may then go home and spend the evening in front of the TV. Even those who go to the gym sometimes do this to ‘make up for’ the time they spend sitting down.

Sitting increases the load on your spine significantly, compared to standing 1. Add to that poor seated posture, and the fact that muscles and ligaments stretch to maximum capacity after 30 minutes; it’s no wonder that prolonged sitting can cause a lot of musculoskeletal pain.

However – the news goes further than that. A recent article in New Scientist 2 explored research recently carried out which is beginning to show that inactivity, in particular sitting, is really bad for your health. They quote research which appears to show a difference in mortality rates between those who spent 6 hours a day or more sitting, and those who reported 3 hours or less – and found that extra time sitting was associated with a 37% higher mortality rate for women, and a 17% higher rate for men. They also quote some Australian research which has concluded that each hour of television watched sliced 22 minutes off an average life! This means people who watch 6 hours of television a day can expect to die about five years earlier than those who don’t watch any. The article suggests the average westerner spends most of their waking hours sitting still.

The evidence is amassing to suggest we need to have a different approach to our sedentary habits. The problem applies to everyone who sits for prolonged periods – even if you go for walks, run, or go to the gym, you may well be sitting for longer than ideal between these activities, and it’s this we need to address to keep our backs in shape and apparently, help us to live longer.

So what can be done? Many people tell us they can’t stop sitting, as its part of their job. It is quite true that those who work at a desk are more at risk. However, there is always a solution to a problem. A simple kitchen timer app on your phone, or even a chicken shaped one on your desk, could be the first step – set it to go off every 20-30 minutes, get up and pace around for 2 minutes. We can often sit for hours when concentrating, ignoring the distress signals of our own body, and this can be a very simple solution. People who get up and move for a total of 5 minutes every hour are just as productive as those who sit for the whole hour. Quite a few employers are becoming more aware of this issue and are providing desks which have adjustable height, allowing standing as well as sitting. Ask your employer if they will consider this. Wear a pedometer and set yourself a goal of 10000 steps a day. If you are watching TV, get up every time the adverts are on and make a cup of tea, or do a couple of chores, or your back exercises!

Many people find it difficult to achieve the recommended amount of daily exercise. The good news, according to New Scientist, is the take-home message is ‘anything is better than nothing. Just getting up and moving at all is a step in the right direction’ 2. If you would like further advice on this issue, have a chat with your chiropractor, who will be able to make some more suggestions based on your particular lifestyle.

Kerri Stone

Clinic Director and Chiropractor

1. J.P Callaghan & S M McGill. 2001. Low back joint loading and kinematics during standing and unsupported sitting. Ergonomics 44 (3), 280-294

2. Lovett, R. 2013. Are you sitting comfortably? Well don’t. New Scientist no 2923. 45-47.