Is Sitting the New Smoking?

In recent years healthcare news has drawn attention to the startling possibility that our desk jobs could be just as bad for us as smoking or eating junk food. The worrying thing is that avoiding periods of prolonged sitting isn’t an option for most office workers and is part of a lifestyle that is very much beyond their control.

Fortunately, it’s possible to partially counteract the effects of sitting at work with regular exercise in your spare time (BJSM, 2015). There is even some evidence to suggest that engaging in high levels of physical activity each day (60-75 minutes) can completely counteract the increased rate of mortality associated with prolonged sitting (Lancet 2016).

The average persons sits for 9 hours a day. That’s 55% of their waking hours. With this in mind it stands to reason that the way we sit may be having some impact on our musculoskeletal system. Most of us are guilty of slouching at some point but slouching is actually our body’s way of conserving energy, so if you slouch for a short period of time it could actually be beneficial. The problems start when you sit slouched for prolonged periods of time as the muscles around the back and neck are left in a stretched position. This phenomenon is called tissue creep and can eventually lead to pain when the tissue is left stretched and under load.

The average human head weighs 5kg. If you slouch and the head moves forwards the load that the neck muscles have to absorb increases to about 14kg. That’s almost 3 times as much weight simply because the head has moved forwards and is no longer balanced effectively on the spinal column. Over time this can make the neck muscles fatigue and can lead to neck pain.

Changing position regularly, taking regular breaks away from your desk and using your lunch break to go for a walk or run are just some of the ways that you can start to break up your working day and potentially improve your health!

This blog is based on a presentation given to local office employees.

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