The human body is an incredible thing. It was made to run, jump, climb, throw, swim, and many other things. It was not made, however, to sit in a chair. Or a car. Or an airplane. Or a couch. The body thrives when it does what it was meant to do. It withers up and dies when it doesn't. In this article I want to talk about why sitting is so bad for you and what you can do to combat these negative effects.
I get it. Sitting is part of modern society. We sit at a desk all day at work. We sit in the car on the way home. We sit on the couch when we watch TV. We sit to eat. But with all of this sitting our body is slowly adapting to this sedentary lifestyle. It is becoming less capable of doing what it was meant to do. Have you ever seen a toddler walk around? They squat with perfect technique. They squat down to pick things up instead of bending at the waist. They can turn in all different directions easily, put their hands over their heads with ease, climb over and under obstacles, and basically do things with their body that adults can only dream about doing. Contrast a toddler with a 9 year old. We have 9 year olds in our kids class who can't squat without their chest getting almost parallel to the floor. What happened from the toddler years to age 9?? School. TV. Video games. The Car. When kids start going to school they start sitting for the majority of the day instead of running around exploring. Then they sit in the car on the way home, sit in front of the TV on the couch and sit in a chair playing video games. What happens is that their body starts adapting to what they are doing. Their hips and hamstrings tighten up, their core shuts off, their shoulders round forward, and they can no longer perform functional movements correctly. Take that 9 year old who already can't squat correctly and add 15 more years of school, car rides, and TV watching, followed by 40 years of working at a desk, car rides, and couch sitting, and you can imagine what you get. Someone who can't bend over without throwing their back out (something we see all of the time in the gym). Sitting is the single greatest threat to your health and fitness. Let's talk about why.
So what is so bad about sitting anyways? And what are the long term issues with it? All of this sitting is setting you up for injury. You will not able to perform functional movements correctly and will be much more likely to hurt yourself when you do them. I had a conversation with someone the other day who said that he was thinking about quitting CrossFit because his back was always hurting. I asked him if he was going to quit exercising completely and he said no. I told him that if he continues to exercise he will always have back issues until he fixes the cause of all of these issues. He needs to undue all of the years he has accumulated sitting. Performing functional movements (movements the body was meant to perform) is not the issue. If you are getting hurt performing these movements then that means that you have a sitting problem. Changing your exercise routine is not going to fix the issue. Until you fix the problem then you will always deal with these nagging pains. Exercising through nagging pain is still a better alternative, though, than what a lot of people do, which is give up on exercise completely. Many people think that they are just too old to exercise and that their bodies can't take it. This is catastrophic. As soon as you stop moving your body the way it was meant to move it is going to start breaking down. Nothing will work correctly and you will go down a road of sickness that will most likely last the rest of your life. Our country has a health epidemic going on that needs to be addressed. People are getting chronic disease increasing rate, needing assisted living at a younger and younger age, and the average weight continues to rise. The moment that you tell yourself that you can't exercise anymore is the moment that your health and quality of life will start to decline, a decline that will not stop unless you start taking care of yourself. Nothing pains me more than to see a 35 year old who has given up on their health. If you give up at 35 and plan to live until 80 then you are in for a rough 45 years! The only thing that is going to stop this descent into sickness is an improved diet and exercise.
We know that we will be sitting. There is no getting around that. So what can we do to combat all of that sitting? The first option is to find alternatives to sitting. Go to whatever lengths you can to get a standup desk. Not only will a standup desk improve your mobility and flexibility, but they have actually been proven to make you more efficient at work. Every person who I have talked to who has made the switch says it is one of the best decisions that they have made. Well, what if you are in a job where you can't have a standup desk? If you must sit all day then take a 5 minute break every hour or two and get up and walk around, stretch, and move your body. Put these breaks on your calendar or set an alarm so that you won't miss them. Make sure and stretch your hips, hamstrings, and shoulders out, and just generally move your joints. Performing Controlled Articular Rotations (CARS) at each joint is a great way to keep your body healthy. Basically you make slow circles in each direction with each joint (think neck circles, shoulder circles, hip circles, etc). Ok so what if you have to sit all day and can't get up (plane ride or car ride)? Make sure and stretch before and after these long sessions. Try to stretch for 10 minutes before you get on the plane or in the car and then again for 10 minutes after you reach your destination. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel. Finally, don't use your sedentary day as an excuse to not exercise. Your body craves to move. If you do not move then you will be setting yourself up for trouble. Start with 3 days a week and try to work your way up to 4 or 5 days of exercise. If you can develop these habits then you will feel like a new person in a few months.
I hope you now see how much of a negative impact sitting has on your health. Not only does it set you up for injury, but it can set you up for sickness and disease as well. Start by taking a self assessment of how much you sit and how much you move. If these are not in balance then start trying to sit less or to move more. If you start to correct this then you will be amazed at the difference you feel!