Sitting – the new smoking?

Sitting: the new smoking?

Sitting in a chair – especially the way most of us sit in a chair or on the sofa – is really not very good for the body. Most of us roll back off our sitting bones and collapse through our spines, poking our heads forwards towards our computer or tv screen…

Sitting badly

This posture is bad for our bodies in so many ways. It reduces the space for our internal organs, affecting our breathing, digestion and blood flow. It compromises our spines by squeezing our intervertebral discs, creating the microtrauma that can lead to disc degeneration and bulging or herniated discs. It reduces the distance between the sacrum and pubic symphysis, leading to a shortening and weakening of the tissues of the pelvic floor (I’ll be doing a more comprehensive post on the pelvic floor soon, but think incontinence, prolapse, erectile dysfunction….). The forward head posture can lead to neck and shoulder ache since your poor muscles and connective tissues are having to hang on to a head that is being pulled on relentlessly by gravity and is not supported by the spine that should be underneath it. The forward head posture also compromises the space for the vertebral arteries that are encased within the neck vertebrae (bit of a design flaw?). This can lead to reduced blood flow to the head, headaches, eye strain… No wonder people are saying that sitting is the new smoking.

But, you say, I have to sit! My work environment, my travel arrangements, my home furniture design – modern life is geared around sitting. What do I do? Unless you are one of the lucky people who can rearrange their lifestyle, you need to make the best of a bad lot in two ways. The first way is: don’t sit still for so long. Come up with some ideas for how you can create habits that encourage a change of position or some movement at regular intervals. For example:
Every time you talk on the phone, stand up. Or, if you have a cord-free phone, walk around.
Every time you press send on an email, check your posture. Or better yet, stand up, swing your upper body around from side to side a few times, then sit back down in a good sitting posture.
When you are travelling (and by the way, most car, train and airplane seats are designed with a bucket shape that forces you to slump – it’s usually impossible to sit well in them) set the timer on your watch or phone to beep every 15 minutes, and get up and move around.

The second way to improve things is to sit with a better posture. Esther Gokhale, author or 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back, teaches ‘stretch-sitting’ and sells a back support that helps keep good spinal alignment while leaning back in a chair (I haven’t tried it myself so can’t give a fully informed opinion on it, but it seems to makes sense). But even better than sitting with such a support is to sit well without one. Mary Bond, author of The New Rules of Posture, taught me how to sit well, and it all starts with the pelvis. Firstly, make sure that your pelvis is higher than your knees. If your chair is a bit low, stack a block or some firm cushions on it. Then find your sitting bones….

After a lifetime of slumping, your back muscles may lack the endurance to hold you up in this position for extended periods of time. Take a break from sitting well as often as you need to – see Giving Your Spine a Break When Sitting for ideas.