Sitting isn’t good for your health.
Globally, on average, we spend about 7.7 hours sitting. Each and every day.
Considering we spend a decent bit of our 24 hours sleeping and eating, 7.7 makes up a very large portion of our day. When you consider that a large number of the Western populace not only has a deskjob, but also sits while eating, playing games, watching TV and being mostly generally sedentary, it’s no wonder that we spend that much time sitting. Some people even clock up to 15 hours a day.
So, why is that an issue? Well, biologically, we were once a simple hunter-gatherer species. That means we spent most of our day scouring the world for food, wandering about nomadically, and sleeping and sitting only for short periods. We’d take occasional naps, we’d hunt, we’d run from predators, and we’d generally spend our days being very physically active.
Today, however, that has changed quite a bit. We’ve gone from hunting on a daily basis, to being mostly sedentary. When agriculture came along, it still meant hours each day tending to the plants, toiling on the fields, plowing through the earth, and taking care of various kinds of domesticated livestock. Nowadays, we have supermarkets, instant meals and microwaves.
Biologically, our bodies function to exist – they’ve developed through generations and generations to perform various tasks. Healthy and being fit isn’t, ideally at least, a perk or a luxury – it’s what are bodies should naturally be. Only most of the people capable of reading this online will have gone from living out their shape of health to getting out of shape.
This is nothing new to us – we all know that we need more exercise. About half an hour of vigorous walking, several breaks between long sitting sessions, and a good, clean diet free from excess calories, nutritionally useless food, and harmful chemicals. But, why exactly is sitting bad for us?
I mean, is it because we’re in a single position for so long? Are we somehow shortening our tendons and muscles? In that case, wouldn’t our shoulders be in grave danger as well, seeing how we barely ever give them full range of motion? And what about when we sleep? Although many of us might thrash around in bed, normal sleepers rest without too much movement, if any at all. And considering the sideways fetal position many people sleep in, that, too, in theory at least, would lead to shorter hip flexors, right?
Well, let’s first look at basic human anatomy. Our most important metabolic functions are performed by our organs, which in turn reside within the skeleton of our torso. Various bones both give our body the structure it needs to move and function, as well as protect parts of us, such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, brain and so on and so forth. Alongside our bones, muscles play a role in movement – yet of the three types of muscle tissue we possess, only one type can be consciously moved and controlled – the skeletal muscle. Cardiac muscle and smooth muscles make up our heart’s involuntary pumping mechanism and the inner workings of our body, for example, peristalsis (swallowing) while eating.
Skeletal muscle, however, is the kind attached to our bones – this muscle is activated through a relationship between the somatic nervous system of the body, and the muscle’s motor neurons. When we send the signal to contract a muscle, it pulls together in a way that allows us to perform a movement, while the bones ensure that everything holding on to them maintains a certain rigidity and structure. Otherwise we’d just flop around with the occasional muscle spasm whenever we try to move.
Connecting these contracting muscles to the bones are tendons – tough, flexible bands of connective tissue. They ensure that our muscles and bones don’t tear off one another while performing heavy lifting.
Connecting bone to bone are joints – these are designed to allow mobility between different parts of the body without the respective ends of each bone constantly wearing out through friction. Between bones, joints consist of tiny sacs of synovial fluid – fluid used to lubricate joints and avoid friction – and ligaments, which are tough, elastic bands of tissue protecting these sacs.
Now, when you sit, several things happen. You activate your hip flexors to keep you in your seated position, and given most of us work on computers, you probably also slouch forward. With your arms resting on the desk, near the keyboard, your shoulders are hunched up, and your back isn’t kept straight. And depending on how you rotate your hips, your spine may be twisting in the wrong way.
You can pay attention to your back and shoulders, and try to lean slightly against the back of the chair, to keep your back straight, and walking around every hour or so will also help keep any detrimental effects away – but there’s one stretch almost no one tells you about when it comes to seating – and that is the deep squat. Trust me, when you’re sitting for a long time, practicing a deep squat and getting to that point where you can effortlessly hold one, with your Gluteal muscles touching your heels, and your feet flat on the ground and pointed forward, you won’t have to worry about the hip issues you might get with sitting. Practice stretching your hips and working your way into the splits, and you won’t have to worry about tightness or shortening tendons, either.