Homo sapiens were able to win the fight for survival against Neanderthals not only thanks to their nimble hands, more effective energy management or better developed speech apparatus. The modern-day human survived because he was better adapted to the environmental conditions. We, as a species, have the ability to adapt to changing conditions. By constantly evolving we have won against the changing climate, deadly diseases and “competition”.
Unfortunately changes take time. As of now, the biggest threat facing our species, which we have not yet found a way to deal with is… the chair.
Your enemy, the Chair
Maintaining a seated position is a novelty for the human body. Our species has spent most of its time standing, walking, running or lying down – chairs were not overly popular in the Paleolithic era. According to a study conducted by American scientists, an average human spends 7h 42 min in a seated position. Interestingly, the participants of the study weren’t monitored throughout the entire day, which means that the real numbers are even higher. We sit at work, at school, when we travel, eat, rest or meet other people. There are no records showing how much time we used to spend in a seated position 100 years ago, but I’m sure that the amount would be less than the half of what it is today. How does spending 1/3 of our lives in this atypical position impact our bodies? The answer to that question isn’t very optimistic one.
The harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle
Maintaining a seated position over long periods of time is unhealthy in many ways. It increases the risks of:
· cardiovascular disease;
· type 2 diabetes;
Despite extensive research confirming a positive correlation between the time spent in a seated position and the probability of developing the above-mentioned illnesses, in my opinion the logic behind such claims is not entirely sound. The list of factors adding to the risk of contracting these diseases is quite long, so it seems a bit of a stretch to blame only one of them for everything. Nevertheless, according to the statistics, “a sedentary lifestyle is the fourth leading cause of death (WHO)” and “a seated position is responsible for 20 percent of all deaths in America”, which sets a rather bleak outlook for the future. Of course, one can disagree with such findings, however any attempt to undermine the impact that a sedentary lifestyle has on poor posture is doomed to fail from the start.
Changes in your musculoskeletal system
Once again, sitting is hazardous to our bodies because it:
· weakens the muscles of the abdomen and buttocks;
· puts a strain on the spine and distorts its natural curvature;
· causes the shoulders to be pulled too far forward;
· leads to the tightening of back muscles;
· shortens the hip flexors.
All of the above-mentioned disorders can cause more frequent and stronger back pain, as well as pain in the shoulders, neck and head. A sedentary lifestyle affects our posture as well. Our musculoskeletal system is not used to being kept in such a position over long periods of time, which is why sooner or later it sends a simple but very effective signal that something is wrong.
Unfortunately, by then it’s usually too late…
How to cope?
First, it is best to establish to what degree has our body degenerated (it’s a strong word but my use of it is deliberate). Experienced personal trainers or physical therapists will surely be able to help by preparing a suitable “recovery plan” which will include appropriate exercises along with precise guidelines on performing day-to-day activities adapted to our abilities and expectations. A specialist will be able to provide an objective diagnosis and detect any defects that, in the long run, could lead to serious health problems but which may go unnoticed by someone who isn’t a professional.
Physical activity under the watchful eye of a personal trainer is the most effective way of combating the detrimental effects of sitting (especially those involving your musculoskeletal system). However, even without professional support, your body will surely be grateful if only you try to:
· spend more time on your feet; you might even want to consider buying a standing desk;
· frequently change positions;
· remember about simple daily exercises that stretch the neck and back such as bending over or circling your arms;
· keep proper posture during everyday activities;
· increase general physical activity, have enough quality sleep and follow a healthy diet.
The human body can withstand a lot. We have been able to deal with sabretooths, the bubonic plague and wars so we will probably be able to handle sitting. The key is getting to know you enemy. You have already made the first step in that direction.
Tadeusz Kasperczyk: “Wady postawy ciała diagnostyka i leczenie”, Kraków, 20022.
Kelly Starrett, Cordoza Glen: “Bądź sprawny jak lampart”, wyd. Galaktyka, 20153.
Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010 Jul; 38(3): 105–113.4.
Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Apr 1; 167(7): 875–881.5.
The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company. John P Buckley,1 Physical Inactivity: A Global Public Health Problem. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
On 3.09 you will be able to check your health and the state of your musculoskeletal system as part of a partnership between CityFit and Katowice Business Run. You will have the opportunity to consult a specialist who will provide professional health advice.