Sitting down could be killing you. Chiropractor and former Rhodes Student Dr Lauren Pienaar gave a talk entitled “Sitting and your health” in the Department of Human Kinetics and Ergonomics at Rhodes University.
“Sitting is the new smoking,” said Pienaar, who wants to create an awareness about the hazards of sitting down for long periods of time.
Pienaar explained how new research has shown that sitting down is directly related to disease. It was shown that prolonged sitting is associated with a higher risk of dying from all causes – even for those who exercise regularly.
“More than 50% of the waking hours of the average person are spent sitting,” she explained. While desk jobs are unavoidable, Pienaar advised people to make small changes in their daily routines. Instead of having a sit-down meeting, go for a walk. Stand up every 30 minutes, or make yourself a cup of tea.
Too much sitting is regarded as an independent risk factor for ill health. This means that even regular exercise cannot undo the damage caused by 8 hours of daily sitting. However, a lack of exercise only worsens the effects.
Muscular-skeletal effects of too much sitting include bad backs, stiff necks, neck pain, headaches, muscle shortening, and pelvic torsion.
Sitting down decreases circulation in the body. This can lead to health complications such as heart conditions, varicose veins, an over productive pancreas, diabetes and obesity.
Pienaar advocated adopting a healthier posture when sitting at a desk. Leaning against a pillow or towel for back support will prevent hunching, using an independent keyboard positioned on your lap will decrease compression on your wrists and elbows, and raising your screen to eye level will prevent hyper extension of the neck.
According to Piennar, when sitting, the angle between your spine and thing bones should be between 100-130 degrees. This will reduce your chances of adopting an upper-cross posture, which is hunching of the shoulders caused by daily routines of driving, watching TV and working at a desk.
Another consequence she raised was “text neck”. When typing or reading text messages, we tend to tilt our heads and curve our necks. The forces on the neck increase the more we tilt our heads, causing spine curvature. Additionally, for every 2,5 cm your head moves forward, it gains 4,5kg in relative weight.
“When spinal tissues are subjected to a significant load for a sustained period of time, they deform and undergo remodelling changes that may become permanent,” she said. This means that hunching over laptops and phones and sitting down for hours each day will ultimately result in spine deformation, such as hunchbacks.
Pienaar stressed the importance of today’s youth changing their ways while they still have the time. She offered multiple simple tips that can significantly improve your health:
- Become aware of your own posture and actively try to reprogramme your habits.
- Set up your working are to support your efforts
- Strengthen weak areas with exercises.
- Stretch and relax overactive and tight areas.
And finally, if you experience significant limitations in range of movement, pain, frequent headaches and undue stiffness, see a chiropractor.