Sitting is not an option in modern culture and it is okay to spend time sitting. Still, we must mitigate the adverse effects of sitting through a lifestyle that embraces our natural magnificence. Please wait until the end of this article before purchasing a standing desk. The human spine was not designed to be static, whether that be standing or sitting.
American’s spend a lot of time sitting. In 2016 JAMA analyzed 5923 adults and discovered that 25% sit for longer than 8 hours a day, and 44% of the group sitting more than 8 hours a day was inactive during non-siting hours. Of the people analyzed, only 3% reported sitting less than four hours a day. This is a major contributing factor to the back pain epidemic in the U.S. 65 million people in the U.S.A. detail a single bout of back pain through the year, and of that, 16 million report chronic back pain. The issues extend past pain, though, as research shows that people who sit have an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
Your spine was designed with three distinct curvatures from the side view for optimal functioning. These curves serve as lever arms and fulcrum points for the body to perform movements while simultaneously reacting to the environment through sensory integration, counteracting gravity forces, and allowing optimal nerve impulses from the brain for organs to function. This system was designed to be dynamic, and the postural system’s movement serves as fuel for the brain. Sitting places stress on this system that has been evolving over millions of years, as we have only been sitting for the last 50 years.
A stressor causes the body to adapt. For example, the stress created through exercise causes muscles to make physiological changes that increase performance. Prolonged sitting causes your body to adjust by first altering how the muscles that support posture function. The glutes and abdominals become weak, and your psoas muscle becomes shortened. The deep back muscles are made up of Type I muscle fibers that do not fatigue quickly; sitting causes them to behave like Type II muscles that are easily fatigued. The spine’s normal curvature is then lost, and undue pressure is placed upon discs causing disc degeneration and bulge. The loss of curvature puts tension on the spinal cord, decreasing nerve transmission speed and interrupting the central nervous system’s function. This phenomenon is known as Vertebral Subluxation Complex (VSC).
A VSC can be present with absolutely no symptoms for years, and this results in no change of behavior, and the degenerative changes become worse. One day, when tying a shoe or picking up groceries, we experience a sudden onset of back pain and believe it to be due to the acute aggravating factor. We then search for options that will dissolve the pain as quickly as we think it was created and ignore the fact that years of poor posture have resulted in our current situation. Even worse, we forget that our central nervous system has been working sub optimally for years, making us more prone to early aging, cancer, heart disease, and many other degenerative diseases. The onset of pain then further alters our brain’s structure and function, causing poor cognition, brain fog, decreased mood, depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.
Do not wait for the onset of pain before making a lifestyle change. We cannot just add in a day of exercise to combat the effects of sitting. Research has shown that going from activity to a sitting position creates accelerated degenerative changes to the postural system. We must honor this postural system daily; it is our lifeline.
Steps to Combat Sitting
- Set a clock for 20-30 minutes when sitting and perform some type of light activity like jumping jacks, air squats, good-mornings, or pushups. If your job does not allow for such intervals, try to get as many breaks in as possible. Something is better than nothing.
- Take a walk during lunch.
- Perform spinal hygiene rehab twice daily that has been prescribed by a MaxLiving doctor.
- Focus on core and glute activation while diaphragmatic breathing when sitting. This will delay the weakening of the muscles. Also, while sitting, the body tends to rely on accessory muscles for breaths. This results in poor oxygenation, which is also related to many diseases. Diaphragmatic breathing increases oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide detoxification.
- Maintain regular chiropractic care. An adjustment places the body closer to the optimal postural alignment. Since the damage has been caused by years of sitting, it is ideal to receive adjustments weekly to counteract the stresses we have placed and continue to put on our spine.