2016, Charlene Yared West, health & wellness, Magazine: Life Healthcare

Everybody’s talking about… Sitting

Sit, stand or move? How can you overcome physical inactivity in your everyday life?  

Research shows that people who sit for eleven or more hours a day are 40% more likely to die over the next three years, whether they are physically active or not. Movement is a vital nutrient for health. Considering your levels of stress, increasing workload sitting at your desk and the amount of exercise you do, this can be a frightening statistic… so how can you avoid this risk? Charlene Yared-West speaks to the experts to find out more about how to sit less and live longer… 

Let’s start at the very beginning…

A sedentary lifestyle is rewarded and cultivated in our society from a very young age, explains Adele Pudney, physiotherapist from ADK Physio & Hydrotherapy (wellspringcentre.co.za). Babies are often overprotected and kept ‘safe’ to the extent that it lowers their natural and necessary exploration of the environment, she says. “The baby then grows into a child and at school is forced to sit for long hours behind a school desk. Now add to this poor alignment and ergonomics and these little bodies grow into the patterns that are adopted for extended periods, which don’t have good health outcomes.The World Health Organisation recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, in the face of the statistic that adults typically spend 90% of their leisure time sitting down.” 

Sitting on your health problems

Obesity, high blood pressure, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, non-alchoholic fatty-liver disease and even depression are some of the health problems which result from a sedentary lifestyle, says Mr Zeno Rossouw, physiotherapist based at Life Orthopaedic Hospital at Vincent Pallotti. “In my scope of practice I have seen clients who take for granted their access to information and education and have a lack of commitment to their overall health,” he says. He adds that people can only control that which is in their capability, such as ensuring a healthy diet, adequate exercise, not smoking and avoiding alcohol. Australian research shows that the average office worker only spends 73 minutes of their daily life walking – not sitting – and so in 73 minutes all their cooking, walking and any exercise they may get is done, adds Dr Greg Venning, author and chiropractor at Peak Chiropractic in Cape Town (capetownchiro.com). “We are genetically wired to love movement. It triggers the reward pathways deep in our brain and should make us want to move more, but modern sedentary living disconnects us from that primal joy. Movement of the body, especially the spine, acts like a windmill that generates stimulation and energy for the brain and every moment we spend sitting we’re robbed of that stimulation,” he says. 

Hit the pause button – and move!

A central problem is the structural damage that sitting causes that leads to nerve damage, organ dysfunction, muscle tightness, pain, fatigue and a whole host of problems, says Dr Venning. “Getting moving again will limit future damage and there will be some damage that your body cannot undo on it’s own. You can get a good idea of that damage by testing your relaxed posture,” he says. “If you slump, then there are problems that need assessed and addressed. Your body should hold you up effortlessly and you should not need to hold your body up.” Liesl Way, physiotherapist at Life Westville Hospital suggests these simple changes to interrupt long periods of sitting, which can make all the difference. 

  • Regular movement at your desk: Set an alarm every for 30 minutes as a reminder to pause and move for 2 to 5 minutes. This time should include marching on the spot, walking, stretching the neck, lower back, shoulders out of the slouch position (called reverse postures). While sitting, squeeze buttocks, pump ankles, march legs, bend straighten knees under the desks. 
  • Maintain a good posture: While sitting or standing, maintain good postural habits.
  • Regular daily exercise: 30 minutes, five times a week. 
  • Choose differently: Choose to take the stairs and not the lift, take a walk to a colleague’s desk instead of sending them an email, get up and walk to collect a file, instead of rolling your chair to fetch it. Have a walking meeting instead of a sitting one. Stand while reading. Park further away from the workplace to walk further. Have two work stations; one for sitting and one for standing and do different aspects of your job at these stations. 
  • Don’t be a couch potato: Instead of fast forwarding the TV ads, exercise while they are on!
<SIDEBAR>Before you sit down… rather stand, or better yet, try a treadmill desk!Standing workstations and treadmill desks have become more popular over the years. Experts agree that they have their benefits, but they also have their downsides. In everything, balance is key. When using a standing workstation, blood can pool in the legs and put strain on the feet and legs, which can lead to plantar fasciitis and knee, hip and back problems. You will have to build up your standing tolerance slowly by listening to your body,” explains Adele. “If your body starts aching, change your position and make sure you wear comfortable, well supporting shoes, as high heels will not be kind to your feet.” Dr Venning suggests making a game out of it, which will encourage movement amongst employees. “Put penalties in place for every time you’re caught not standing for a phone call. Standing workstations are a great idea if they are managed well,” he says. Zeno points out that  treadmill desks could improve attention and memory after the user has stopped walking. “The constant slow pace will add to energy levels, soothing of joints and muscles thereby having a positive impact on the health of the employee,” he says. 

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