The benefits of exercise are well documented but did you know that all your hard work could be in vain if you spend the rest of your time sitting or lying down? It seems that no matter how many times a week we get to the gym or our chosen exercise class, it’s our habits for the other 23 hours that really make the difference. Quite simply we were made to move…regularly.
Technology has made our working lives physically much easier and, in one form or other, it has worked its way into much of our free time. As a result, our bodies are being forced into a role for which they were not designed. And it’s taking its toll. Here’s how:
The skeletal system
While we are sitting at our desks or over our phones, correct alignment is often the last thing on our minds. We tend to slump, round through the upper back and collapse across the chest. Over time this not only impacts on our posture (check out the number of people whose shoulders are rounded and whose chin juts forward), it also puts undue strain on the back and neck often leading to back pain and disc problems. What’s more our joints become compromised, reducing their range of movement and our muscles tighten, shorten and weaken ultimately leading to pain and injury.
Try this: Set a reminder to get up from the chair as often as possible and at least every 30 minutes. Aim to include some stretching and mobility exercises in at least 2 of the breaks to counteract the effects of sitting. See my earlier post on stretching for some useful ideas if you have a little space to move but if not, all is not lost, there’s also exercises that can be done even in your chair.
The cardiovascular system
Sitting also impacts on the cardio-vascular system. If it is not being challenged, it becomes sluggish. Incorrect posture also plays its part. If we are hunched over, our lungs are compressed and unable to expand as efficiently as they should, thus impacting on the flow of oxygen around the body. Monitor your breathing and you may find that it is quite shallow, and that you tend to breathe high up into your chest with your shoulders lifting. Breathing is controlled by muscles in the same way as any other movement and they need to be worked to keep them functioning well. Don’t forget too, that the brain also needs oxygen just as much as the rest of the body for it to function optimally.
Try this: Stand or sit tall and place your hands around the sides of your rib cage. Take a deep breath. Try and breathe into your hands and feel them move outwards as your rib cage expands. Watch that your shoulders are not lifting. Take in as much air as you can and then slowly breathe out, feeling the hands come back together and the ribs closing down as if you are squeezing every last bit of air out. It takes practice. (This is also a great stress reliever!).
It stands to reason that if you are more sedentary, you will burn less calories. To make matters worse, when you are sitting at the desk or in front of the TV in the evening, temptation can strike so much more easily. It is likely that the food choices will not be the healthiest and that eating will be far from ‘mindful’ with little or no perception of the amounts being consumed.
High blood sugar can result leading to weight gain especially around the middle, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. There’s so much coverage about how many calories the latest high-intensity exercise trend can burn and yet, simply moving consistently throughout the day offers so much more calorie burning potential.
Try this: apart from moving as often as you can, on days that you know you are likely to be sitting more, take extra care with the amount and type of food you eat. Aim to limit the amount of refined carbohydrates such as chocolates, biscuits, crisps as they break down quickly in the body causing blood sugar levels to shoot up just when there’s least chance of it being burnt off as fuel.
The hard facts
The number of diseases that are linked to extended periods of sitting are many: heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer and even dementia. One study found that for every hour you sit, you potentially reduce your life expectancy by 22 minutes. Some have gone so far as to say that sitting is the new smoking. It’s no wonder that scientists are starting to refer to our sedentary lifestyle as a disease in itself: the sitting disease. Keep moving and not only will your body love you for it, you’ll also be extending your life in the process!