How prolonged sitting can affect us and what to do about it

Text neck. Bad circulation. Tired. Arthritis. Depression and mood swings. Headache. Tension on the top of the shoulders. What does all of this have in common? In my 33 years of chiropractic practice, these are all conditions and symptoms that patients tell me they have acquired as a result of long periods of forced sitting at work, school and play. There is a whole science called ergonomics that has evolved and addresses the problems and concerns that arise from the increase in the number of seats we are exposed to. This article will explain how prolonged sitting affects us and what we can do to alleviate the deleterious effects we experience when we sit too long.

Historically, human beings have not had the opportunity or the ability to sit much. Until about 5,000 years ago, most human populations were nomadic. They walked to productive hunting areas to obtain food. Or they walked to productive grazing areas necessary for the livestock they were raising. They weren’t very lucky to sit in one place for very long.

About 5000 years ago, humans acquired the technology of agriculture. The Egyptians are credited with the first large-scale farms. While it didn’t require a nomadic lifestyle, it also didn’t allow these people to become couch potatoes. Anyone involved in farming knows that it involves a lot of manual labor. Even during the most recent industrial age, our predecessors were involved in very physical manual labor.

So when you think about it, humanity has only started sitting for long periods of time in the last 50 to 75 years. Before that, throughout all of human history, we were creatures of movement. Our bodies have evolved to walk a lot, stand, exercise large muscle groups by carrying and lifting objects necessary for our survival.

However, now with the preschool, elementary, high school, college and sedentary professions, not to mention our use of computers and wearable tech devices, many of us are sitting more than previous generations could ever imagine.

It is no wonder that we suffer from the diseases listed earlier in this article. Our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents would probably be amazed if we went to health clubs and exercise classes to exercise and build our muscles. Most likely, they just wanted to come home from work and have a rest.

Yet it looks like we are going to be creatures of a sedentary lifestyle for many generations to come. Thus, it will be necessary for us to take measures to counter the harmful physical effects of our relatively inactive lifestyle.

One area to consider is the ergonomic state of our environment at work and at home. It is important to have an appropriate chair, desk and computer station. There is no quick fix or one-size-fits-all recommendation for a perfect ergonomic situation. We are all different shapes and sizes. There are many types of chairs that we can use. Trial and error is perhaps the best we can hope for when it comes to finding a good chair. Plus, don’t ignore seat cushions and upholstery that can turn a mediocre chair into an ergonomic chair. Likewise, our offices and computer stations can almost certainly be improved with a little attention. Anything we can do to sit up straight, have our wrists and hands in a comfortable neutral position, have the lower back supported in a stress-free posture, and have the legs and feet properly supported should be continued.

It is certainly recommended to also consider a workstation that allows us to stand up. A quick internet search for a variable or upright desk will yield many choices for this technology. Most of them are inexpensive and easy to install. In my practice, I have suggested this to many of my patients in recent years. Those who were able to follow my advice were very positive and pleasantly satisfied with the ergonomic improvements made.

Of course, the old method of getting up and going for a walk is probably the best antidote for prolonged sitting. Whether it’s a walk to the water cooler, a lunchtime stroll, or a brisk, relaxed walk after work, nothing beats walking to counter the harmful effects of a long day sitting.

Take the time to assess and evaluate your workstation and determine how you can physically, initiate appropriate movements and exercise into your daily lifestyle. In the short and long term, these steps can make a huge difference in our health and mental behavior.

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