Sedentary is the new Smoking
I am sure that you have heard the phrase floating around that “Sitting is the new smoking.” Billions of dollars are spent per year in health care costs due to tobacco use in this country; and “sitting” has become a new contender on the risk factor list. As awareness has increased surrounding the detrimental health consequences of sitting, there has been an appropriate response in typical office settings to convert to sit-to-stand desks and standing work stations. I think that this is a great reaction and I am happy to see that public awareness continues to increase with actions being taken.
However, these efforts may not be good enough, and here’s why:
Static standing has a long list of negative health effects as well as sitting. Compression of your weight bearing joints, as well as poor posture can progress joint inflammatory disorders, and vascular issues. Often times we lack the adequate postural strength and stability to stand with correct posture, therefore we end up leaning on our desk, shifting our weight to one side, or hunching forward. The body is generally efficient and it does not take much muscle activation to sustain a standing position, therefore it does not do your metabolism any favors. Due to this, I would propose that the new catchphrase should be changed to:
“SEDENTARY is the new smoking.”
In reality, it is the act of being static that has so many consequences. Whichever position you find yourself in, static standing or static sitting, if you are there for hours on end you are not pumping blood through your body to keep your circulatory system healthy and your metabolism fired up. It requires activation of your lower extremity musculature to facilitate blood return back to your heart; so if you are sedentary for extended periods of time you are going to suffer from stagnating blood in your extremities, resulting in a sluggish circulatory system.
While we are seated, our spine is generally supported by the back of a chair, car seat, or couch. Therefore, there is reduced activation of the postural muscles that support our spine naturally. Over time, these muscles adaptively get weak and we suffer from decreased spinal stability and endurance to hold ourselves in postures for extended periods of time. These physical impairments down the line can lead to degenerative spinal conditions, generalized low back pain/neck pain, sciatic symptoms, muscle spasms, etc. Furthermore, as we continue to maintain a seated position there are a variety of muscle imbalances that result. Muscles that are oriented in the front of our body, such as the hip flexors, chest muscles, and neck muscles get tight. In opposition, the muscles that we are sitting on and leaning against end up getting lengthened and weakened due to passive insufficiency and inactivation. What’s that mean essentially? Your butt muscles go to sleep and get lazy. Your core muscles are inhibited and leave you with a soft midsection. Your upper body becomes rounded forward, which can impair breathing and overall muscular function. Your back muscles get weak, and the neck muscles get tense, tight, and over-stressed. Postural conditions can lead to headaches, brain fog, neck and back pain, and general injuries and strains resulting from compensations by the larger dynamic muscle groups.
It’s no wonder why there are so many of us suffering from overuse AND under-use injuries from this striking imbalance across all of our joints!
But what if your job requires extended periods of sitting and/or standing? What if you have an hour commute to and from work every day? What do you do during long plane rides and road trips? How about those 2 hour movies or Netflix marathons? The list could go on and on. Our modern society and culture involves a lot of sitting and does not set us up to have a successful environment where we are able to condition ourselves to move frequently throughout the day. We are all in the same boat, so don’t feel helpless. Awareness is the first step toward change.
So how do you avoid being sedentary?
-Set yourself a reminder or an alarm to go off AT LEAST every hour (Every 20 mins would be ideal)
-When you take breaks, engage in at least a minute of physical activity. Find the stairs and go up and down a couple of times to get your heart rate up. Walk to the water fountain, which will guarantee that next hour you can take another walk to the restroom.
-Get yourself a headset and take meetings and calls on the move
-Dare to be different: be that person who is stretching at the airport, or pacing around rather than sitting on the bleachers at a sports game.
Please share this with everyone that you care for and want to see prioritizing their health and wellness. There is strength in numbers, and we can initiate this movement together.
Shelly Solan, DPT, CWC
InsideOutWellness & Rehab
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Wellness Coach
‘Empowering you to claim your Health as your Wellth’