|Conventional wisdom tell us that injuries come from sudden movements, impacts, heavy lifting, falls etc. In jobs that require a lot of manual labor, much effort is put into preventing injuries and rightly so, injuries at work can be devastating to the injured worker and their family and extremely costly for their employer. So why do so many people who don’t have manual jobs, those who sit at desks, drive trucks and work in sales, seem to get injured? In the past 20 years a lot of study and resources have been directed to the field of Ergonomics. At one time Ergonomics was expected to be the “next ADA” requiring companies to install programs and action plans,
and governments levying heavy fines for non compliance. In the expectation that this would eventually come to pass, big companies hired experts to examine each job in a given workplace, from the loading dock all the way to the CEOs office and make changes and adaptations to avoid or minimize workers injuries.
In the office space this often consisted of more comfortable, supportive chairs, computer screens mounted at eye level, phones with headsets instead of handsets and many other ways to keep the worker from straining their muscles, squinting their eyes or performing too many repetitions of a given task in a day.
From all this research and study, one thing has become apparent: Sitting too long is not good for your health, particularly if you do it for long periods every day. Our bodies may not be built to tolerate too much sitting and in fact our ancestors were more likely to squat or stand than sit on a chair.
Many jobs however, require sitting: office jobs, driving jobs, monitoring jobs. Sitting is often called the new smoking, and in the information age where everything you need is at your fingertips, there may be some truth to this. Of course a moderate amount of sitting is not bad for you, but the longer you sit, the effects on your health can start to be felt. Here are some reasons sitting may not be as healthy as you think. And just so its not all bad news, I have also included some suggestions to stay healthy if your job requires you to sit for long periods.
Sitting cuts off circulation: It has long been recognized that sitting affects blood flow to the legs. But how bad is it? In a recent study, subjects were asked to sit for three hours. The dilation of the arteries in the legs was measured and was found to be reduced by up to 33%. Previous studies have shown that a mere 1% decline in blood flow increases the chances of cardiovascular disease by 13%. This is the reason that people on long plane rides and patients who spend a long time in bed with illnesses, can end up with blood clots called DVTs in their legs.
Best solution: Don’t sit too long at one time. Some workers set an alarm on their phone or Fitbit to remind them to stand every 30 minutes. Another way to reduce pressure on blood vessels is to have a properly fitted chair that spreads the load over a larger area of your legs and buttocks.
Sitting puts stress on the spine. The low back or lumbar spine is supposed to have an inward curve. This puts the least amount of stress on the discs and other structures in the spine. Sitting for a long time reverses this curve causing pressure in the rear part of the discs. It is thought that this pressure inside the disc causes pain and discomfort and over time may lead to degeneration in the back part of the disc increasing the chance of injury. If you already have a bulging disc in the low back, sitting can make it worse. The outward curve causes discs to slowly bulge more over time. This can create pain in the disc but also can cause pain by pressing on nearby nerves. Lower down in the spine are the Sacroiliac joints. These are where the spine joins with the pelvis and are in the upper part of the buttock. Sitting puts stress on these joints causing pain in the buttocks or down the legs.
Best Solution: Get a chair with a lumbar support. Periodically stand up, lean back and push your hips forward. This move stretches your hips and spine in the opposite direction to counteract the effect of sitting.
Sitting at a desk can cause pain in the neck and other joints:
Shoulder Impingement: if you are leaning forward all the time, this puts your shoulder at a disadvantage. Over time the muscles in the rotator cuff can become pinched between the bones of the shoulder.
Protracted posture: Working for hours hunched over a screen or work station, your neck and shoulders can become rounded and tend to point forward. This causes muscle tightness and pain.
Best solution: Elevate your screen to eye level, make sure it is in front of you and not to the side. If you use the phone all day, a telephone headset can ease stress on your neck and shoulders.
Sitting is not active: You are supposed to be active, bodies are not made to sit still. Many of the bodys systems are at their healthiest when we are moving, lungs fill with air, blood moves freely, joints become flexible. There is even evidence to suggest we can think more clearly when walking or exercising. This is why people often take a walk to think about a problems or manage stress. Calf muscles assist the heart: As we walk around, the calf muscles pump blood out of the legs towards the heart. When we sit, the heart has to do all the work by itself. This means slower circulation, swelling in the ankles and sometimes blood clot formation. Joints need activity to be healthy: Cartilage receives nutrients through the synovial fluid in the joints. If you’re not moving, the fluid is not circulating and the cartilage may suffer degeneration over time. Muscles need to move to prevent atrophy: Healthy muscles support your joints and spine. If you’re not using them, you are losing them. Spending a large part of your day in a chair can make you weaker, affect your balance and can cause unsupported joints to begin to ache.
Best solution: Make sure you get up regularly throughout your work day and walk around. Take your breaks standing. To counteract the effects of sitting, think about exercising at lunch or after work.
So if you sit a lot or maybe you are require to sit for your job. Think about ways to move around more and be active during your day. Perhaps you can start a walking club at work or ask your employer for a standing desk. As with most things in this book, small changes can lead to big changes and benefits for all.
This blog is an excerpt from Pauls internationally published book Five Ways to Wellness available on Amazon.