Hazards of Extended Sitting & What to do About It.
Have you ever muttered to yourself, “This job is killing me!”? I know I have.
It is usually at times when I am feeling overwhelmed, overworked and time-pressured. They are fleeting moments and pass quickly.
But a few years ago, they took on new meaning.
I was in the fitness industry for years, running my small, private, personal training business. Most hours I was on my feet, working side by side with my clients. Coupled with my own workouts, very little time was spent sitting at my computer, or seated at all.
Once I shifted from training to coaching, my daily habits changed as well. Coaching by phone, writing blogs, newsletters, social media content, plus managing the marketing and other tasks related to running my business had me sitting at a desk for more hours than ever before.
It was a problem. Not used to sitting still for so long, I had to adjust. I was also reading the new research—extended periods of sitting are bad for our bodies and our minds.
According to the studies on this, despite daily exercise, sitting on our duffs the rest of the day takes a serious toll on our health and well-being.
Most working individuals average at least eight hours of sitting each day unless their jobs involve manual labor. The hours we are not working, we are often commuting in our cars, in front of the TV, or sitting around playing on our devices.
Do you have any idea how many hours a day you spend seated? I didn’t until I tracked it. And it was shocking!
Inherent problems that come with hours of sitting without breaks aren’t easy to ignore.
Individuals with sedentary lifestyles, coupled with frequent prolonged sitting, have shown an increased risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Although the reasons are unclear, studies have linked excessive sitting with colon, breast and endometrial cancer.
Slumped over your computer in your chair all day leads to tight hamstring and hip muscles, weak abdominal, and flaccid glutes. Together that’s a recipe for postural problems, neck and back pain, and increased risk of lumbar disc degeneration.
If the distraction of being in pain and taking time off to attend to disease and illness isn’t enough to make you rethink the way you work all day, don’t discount that extended sitting also impacts your brain.
If you can relate to staring at your computer trying to work, but feeling as if you can’t think straight, it is probably because foggy brain is setting in. When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.
It’s hard to be efficient and effective when your brain isn’t getting the proper fuel it needs.
After 60 or so minutes of sustained focus, the mind begins to fatigue. Just as our bodies tire when working our muscles for extended periods, we feel sluggish and have difficulty thinking when we are fuel deprived. The brain needs a constant source of oxygen to perform optimally. Once it is used up, it needs a break.
Moving muscles pumps fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and triggers the release of all sorts of mind and mood enhancing chemicals. Pretty essential if you want to be productive and do meaningful work.
Here are some easy to implement ideas you can incorporate starting today to improve your health, decrease your risk of injury and illness and increase your creativity and productivity.
- Set a timer to go off every 55 minutes reminding you to take a five-minute break. Stand, stretch, walk around, and grab some sips of water.
- Consider investing in a fitness tracker. Not only will it record your total daily steps—to optimize health the recommendation is 10K—but many have a built-in reminder to go off when you’ve been stationary for too long.
- Set a rule—no eating in front of the computer. Mindless eating leads to overconsumption and weight gain. If you desire a sugar treat to “wake you up” it is a sure sign it is time for a break.
- Commit to a daily lunch break, and enjoy the time off. You’ll come back to work rejuvenated. If hunger strikes mid-morning or afternoon, stop working and take a few minutes to enjoy a healthy snack.
- Eat a combination of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. This mix keeps you satiated and gives the body and the brain the energy it needs to stay focused and be productive.
- If you feel sluggish, take a movement break rather than depend on caffeine or sugar.
- Keep a water bottle on your desk. Sip often.
- Schedule exercise breaks. Often the best problem solving and creative ideas come when the brain and body are being flooded with oxygen. Keep a pad by your side or record thoughts on your phone to capture those that occur to you while working out.
- Create a 10-minute stretch and strengthen routine for the end of the day. Stretch your back, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles. Strengthen your spinal and abdominal muscles.
- Consider purchasing a standing desk, or if your budget allows, a walking treadmill desk.
- Use wireless headphones when on the phone, and walk while you talk, and suggest walking business meetings with colleagues.
Try out a few, or all, of the above tips and see how quickly you positively impact your energy levels, mood, health, and happiness as well as turning on your brain to work smarter, not harder!