There is too much hunching and sitting in modern life. You may have heard, sitting is the new smoking. On average we spend 50 to 70% of our day sitting and as we get tired we start to hunch. Both are extremely unhealthy and contribute to poor posture, poor body mechanics, and a lot of back pain. And no one wants to look or feel like this guy.
Our lives have evolved from moving most of the day to sitting most of the day. Just go back 150 years and most of us were farming the land. We now drive to work, sit all day, drive home, and sit in front of the TV or computer.
Excessive sitting increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and causes shorter life spans for both men and women. When we sit all day we get decreased circulation and muscular imbalances. Everything slows, including brain function. Not a good way to start the new year.
When the bigger muscles in the lower half of your body aren’t being used, a signal goes to your brain and your metabolism changes. These changes increase blood sugar levels and your decreased metabolism only burns a calorie a minute, a third of what you burn when walking.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has also taken a stance against sitting all day and their policy now recommends organizations offer sitting alternatives, including standing desks.
Give Your Body a Break
If you work in an office setting, make it a point to get up and move at least once an hour. Set an hourly timer on your phone until it becomes a habit. Here are some moves for you to work on for a few minutes each hour during your work day:
- Get down into a low squat and rock from side to side
- Do some downward dog (this is a yoga pose in case you don’t know)
- Walk up or better yet hop up a few flights of stairs
- Practice your plank. Start with a minute and work up to two
- Go for a few laps around your building, outside is even better
Strengthen Your Core
Pilates and yoga are great to strengthen your core. You can also check out primal movement. Just google primal movement and you can find some good examples to try out. These movements lead to increased spine flexibility and increased stability.
Considering a standing desk?
After years of dealing with back pain from sitting all day I recently switched to a standing desk. At first it was way harder than sitting all day. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly to expect to be able to stand all day after sitting 10+ hours a day for the past 20 years. The first week or so I felt like I traded my back and shoulder pain for pain in my legs and feet.
It’s been about two weeks and it’s finally getting a little easier. In some ways my full transition was good because the increased pain forced me to do a lot of the above mentioned movements but it’s definitely not ideal and I don’t recommend doing what I did.
If you’re going to switch to a standing desk then do a phased transition. Gradually increase the amount you stand each day and decrease the amount you sit. Even once you’ve built up your standing muscles, don’t stand for eight to ten hours straight because this is not healthy either. The key is variance throughout the day for your body to be healthy.
If you’re not sure about the whole standing desk thing then start by hacking a standing desk by putting some reams of copy paper or books under your laptop or keyboard and monitors. Just make sure you are in a comfortable standing position. Try this for a few hours each day and see how you like it. You can also try an option like this which allows you to easily go back and forth from standing to sitting.
Oh, and a quality standing mat is key. I just got this one and it makes a world of difference and my feet have been thanking me ever since.
Just as sitting properly is important so is standing, especially if you want to remain pain free. If you need help with standing properly at a desk then checkout this youtube from Blake Bowman of Guerrillazen fitness. Here are some of the tips from Blake and my chiropractor that I have been using.
Don’t lock your knees. Have them ever so slightly bent. You also want to slightly rotate your legs outward while keeping your feet firmly planted and lightly flexing your gluts (your butt muscles). Lightly engage your abs as well and this helps maintain a neutral position for your pelvis. You need to work on this at first but it gets easier.
Keep your shoulders down and back and your head over your body. Your keyboard should be at a level so that your arms form a 90 degree angle at your elbows. Your monitor should be at the level of your head. I actually have some lifts under my monitors to get them to the level.
If you do get trapped in a zone and all of a sudden the next thing you know several hours have passed from too much sitting or standing and now your butt or legs are numb you can do some leg swings to loosen your hips and get some blood flowing again.
Begin with forward leg swings. Find something to hold for balance. Start off swinging one leg backwards and forwards as high and as far back as you comfortably can. Do 20 swings and then switch legs.
Next swing your leg side-to-side. Grab something and swing your right leg to the side as high as possible and then in front of you towards your left as far as you can go. Perform 20 swings and then switch legs.
To help with sore feet get a lacrosse ball and roll your foot around on it. This really helps loosen the muscles in your feet and gets the blood flowing. It feels great too.