Lorn Healthy Options: Are you suffering from Sitting Disease?

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Chances are you’re doing it right now. That’s right, sitting.
Some of you will be at the kitchen table, sunk into the couch or perhaps hunched over some electric device.

In recent years health and wellbeing advice has seen a change of emphasis away from merely being more active to spending less time sitting. From this advice the term ‘sitting disease’ has been coined.

Let’s talk about posture because stooping and rounding your shoulders is bad for you.
The average human head weighs about 10 pounds (4.5kg). When you’re hunched over or hanging your head forward while sitting you are shifting that weight onto your upper back and spine. Some researchers suggest that for every inch you hold your head forwards you add almost 10 pounds of pressure to the upper spine and when you relax that pressure such as getting up from a long day sitting at your computer, your muscles can spasm and cause nasty headaches.

Poor posture misaligns your spine and can cause back, neck and shoulder pain, along with the compression of your internal organs in your abdominal cavity. It also places our breathing apparatus under considerable stress forcing us to shallow breathe and depriving us of the restorative effects of opening up our lungs fully.

The repetitive nature of many modern jobs can encourage these problems whether we think about the unnatural physical exertions of tradespeople, the time spent in front of a PC for office workers or the hours spent behind the wheel for vehicle drivers.

However, we are also observing a huge increase in the incidence of neck and back pain in our younger population due to lengthy spells looking down at mobile phones or tablets.

Extended periods of time spent on our posterior and poor posture can lead to all sorts of chronic conditions such as muscle soreness, pinched nerves, slipped disks, constipation, poor balance and an increased risk of developing arthritis due to abnormal wear and tear on bone surfaces.

Your back may feel fine now but often the health choices we make today have implications years down the line and sitting is certainly one of those.

The effects of a life of poor posture can often be observed in older folk who appear hunched over and struggle to lift their head to the horizontal.

After work it’s common to go home and relax on the couch and we certainly don’t want to deprive you of this treat, but try to practice good posture when possible and avoid twisting your body up like a pretzel.

So how do we recommend you sit instead? Let’s start by getting you upright, lengthen your spine with your core muscles engaged, shoulders relaxed, bum and hips against the back of your chair and your feet flat on the ground.

To ensure that your back is supported you can use a cushion or a small pillow. If you are using a computer then the same positioning works but make sure your arms are supported by either your chair arms or your desk, they should not be floating. Try to elevate your screen so the top is level with your eye line and if you are typing from a separate printed document try to elevate this also to the side of your screen so you don’t have to keep looking down and then back up to the screen. (This is also better for your eyes which don’t have to constantly refocus.)

When using mobile phones and tablets try to hold them higher to avoid bending your neck too much.

Aside from having an ergonomic work area it’s important to also take breaks. It won’t matter how good your sitting posture is, prolonged static positions will take a toll on your body. Try to take a small break every 30 minutes by standing up, stretch and take a walk around the home or office. If you are on the road it may not be possible to stop every 30 mins but try to take regular breaks and don’t spend that time sat in a service station eating poor quality food to exacerbate the problem.

What we need is more people, more active, more often…and how do we do it? A good start would be getting off your backside.
Rob Graham, lead exercise professional, Healthy Options.