Sitting: The New Smoking

Sitting has become a common practice for people every day. Whether it is sitting at a desk job, sitting on the couch watching TV, or even sitting in classes, many people spend the majority of their day sitting. In fact, according to juststand.org, the amount of time the average person is sitting a day is 12 hours. This extended period of sitting can bring about many health problems. These health concerns include cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and low back pain. Associated with many of these problems is an increased risk of dying. In fact, many of these concerns and risks are similar to the problems associated with smoking.

With the increased amount of time spent sitting, posture also increasingly gets worse and worse for most people. Not only does sitting affect posture, but the increased use and amount of time spent looking at technology, such as phones, tablets, computers, and even televisions also negatively affect posture by looking down at our screens or even just not having our neck in the correct position. While posture may not seem very important to overall health, it plays a major role in living a healthy life. Back, neck, and shoulder pain are all results of poor posture because the spine is not in the neutral spine position that it should be in. Instead, the spine is curving opposite of the direction that it should be, which can eventually lead to disc problems and nerve pain. I see patients weekly at our clinic that have neck and low back conditions and they main culprit for their pain is poor posture. 

To make things worse, many are sedentary at work or school all day, and then continue to be inactive or sedentary at home as well. Day after day quickly turns into week after week and month after month with very little movement (including exercise) occurring. Lack of exercise is one of the main contributors to the above-mentioned problems like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. This is why sitting can be considered “the new smoking” because these problems are consistent with smoking as well.

So how do we combat all of these problems that are happening? Let’s take a look at each of these problems and things that can be done to minimize the negative effects.

First, let’s start with correcting posture while we are sitting. There are many options that can improve ergonomics while at work, and your employer may even provide those options for you. One such option could be a standing desk or even a standing treadmill desk. This increases the time that is spent standing throughout the day, rather than being in a sitting position, as well as helps your head and neck be in the correct position rather than being in a forward position.

However, if you don’t have access to those resources, you can still take steps to improve posture. One idea similar to the standing desk option is taking time to stand up throughout the day. This can even be as simple as occasionally taking a few minutes to stand up and stretch. Also, getting up to take a short walk intermittently throughout the day can be beneficial. If standing or going on walks doesn’t seem practical for your situation, putting the spine be in a neutral position can be beneficial. This can be done by using something like a lumbar roll to use with your desk chair for extra lumbar support. Even taking some time to pinch your shoulder blades together to stretch out your front pectoral muscles will help you correct your posture by stretching and strengthening the muscles that are involved in having a good posture.

Next, let’s look at the importance of exercise. As has been mentioned, posture is influenced by the strength of muscles. When your muscles are weak, your body is not able to keep your spine in the upright position but rather it is in a slumped position. This is especially true in sitting. Your back tends to curve, especially when your chair does not have the correct support. By exercising daily, you are able to strengthen not only your back muscles that will contribute to a better sitting position, but you will also be able to strengthen the other muscles in your body that perform daily activities like walking and balance. Along with strengthening muscles, daily exercise can also reduce the chances of getting many health problems mentioned like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even cardiovascular disease. While it may be hard to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, even 30 minutes a day of exercising is extremely beneficial. So, sparing 30 minutes a day after getting home from school or work may seem difficult, but it will enhance your quality of life due to a healthier body. So, make sure to keep living an elevated life by sitting with proper posture.