Movement is Medicine

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death” – Dr James Levine, professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

If I asked you what one of the most dangerous things you do each day was, would you ever have imagined that siting may be your answer?

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you, as you sit reading this, are thinking that’s a slight exaggeration. Unfortunately I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely not.

Let’s think about this. You probably sat down for breakfast, before sitting in the car or bus to get to work, you’ll sit to have a coffee, then move to your workstation, sit in the cafeteria for lunch, back to work, into the car and finally onto the couch for an episode of two of Netflix. Aside from transitioning between different seated positions how much movement are you really doing in a day?sitting 1

Humans are not designed to sit. We are a machine of motion, designed to move, and in turn its movement that keeps us healthy both physically and mentally.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the sitting position. The problem arises when we sit for longer than 30 minutes, many physiological processes such as metabolism slow down considerably, muscles switch off, postural integrity goes out the window, and breathing mechanics are altered. If the average human is sitting for 10-12 hours a day it’s inevitable that over time problems will arise and those problems are slowly beginning to kill us.

The position that we assume for most of the day will impact how we move throughout the rest of the day. Poor movement patterns impact on the quality of life, and soon enough the sedentary lifestyle opens the door to pain and disease.

As physio’s we see so much dysfunction that is brought about by poor movement patterns, and often you can trace these back to a deskbound life. Sitting stiffens the hips, tightens the glutes, places more load through the lower back. Now imagine trying to squat or run with these imbalances in the body. You’ve lost the race before you’ve even stepped up to the start line.

What if you exercise every day? Unfortunately exercise is no cure as the average person can’t exercise enough to counteract the hours of sitting. Mobility guru Kelly Starrett likens the idea that you can shake 8 hours of sitting with a hard workout to thinking you can walk off a broken foot. Quite simply when you sit all day you just don’t move enough. Sure if you exercise regularly it’s better for overall health BUT that one hour sweat session unfortunately isn’t a magic reset button.

What about a standing desk? It’s absolutely a step in the right direction; standing immediately reduces pressure on the spine, encourages activation of the larger muscles of the legs, and ultimately promotes movement as you can easily shift weight from side to side and take quick movement breaks. They may be micro-movements but movement is movement.

Ultimately though the solution is that we need to MOVE MORE. For every 30 minutes you are static get up and move, do star jumps or play trash can basketball, it doesn’t matter just get your ass out of that chair! Ditch the work emails, what ever happened to the old face to face communication?; walk while on phone calls; take the stairs; park your car a block further from the bus stop; or even get a coffee from the cafe around the block. Simple strategies that all encourage MOVEMENT.

When you start to move more it’s time to make sure you master the basics of simple movement patterns. You would be surprised how many people don’t actually know how to sit down into a chair properly. Sitting in a chair is effectively a squat, let’s say you do 50+ a day with poor form which puts unnecessary stress on your knees or lower back. It’s a skill just like throwing or catching a ball and technique is important because it will translate into better movement patterns in day to day life.

It’s not the complete solution, I’m afraid to say that sedentary behaviours are more ingrained in our society than they should be BUT if changing a few small habits even slightly reduces your risk of pain or disease then it’s a no brainer.

‘Sitting is the new smoking’ – Still not convinced? Have a read of this…. maybe some facts and figures will be more motivating to make you stand up and take action!

Movement is the ultimate medicine.