More than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting, whether it is while watching TV, working at a computer, reading a book, commuting or doing countless other activities for which one is seated.
Prolonged sitting is not going to do any good for your health. It affects super-fit people as well as couch potatoes pretty much alike.
It contributes to muscle fatgue, weak bones, osteoporosis, obesity, foggy brain, strained neck, and sore shoulders and back.
It can also lead to metabolic syndrome, which represents a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and unhealthy cholesterol levels.
When you spend most of your time sitting, your body burns less fat and your blood circulates poorly. Slow blood circulation in the legs can cause various problems, such as edema, swollen ankles, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis.
Plus, if you sit for hours looking at a computer, laptop, mobile device or TV screen, your eyes can become strained.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, inactivity like sitting at a desk for long periods of time has been linked not only to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease but also to increased risk of certain cancers.
Another 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that prolonged sedentary time is independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.
Although it is hard to completely reverse the damage caused by prolonged sitting, you can take steps to prevent further damage and improve your health.
Here are some ways to help undo the damage of sitting all day.
1. Take Time Out for Yoga
If sitting for prolonged hours while working has taken a toll on your health, join a yoga class without thinking twice.
Many yoga postures target areas of tension and provide relief from many desk-job ailments. As an added bonus, yoga helps keep the stress of a high-pressure job under control.
Two yoga poses, Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) and Cow Pose (Bitilasana), when practiced together helps stretch the back torso and neck and brings flexibility to the spine.
It also helps improve posture and prevent back and neck pain when practiced regularly.
- Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Knees should be under your hips and wrists under your shoulders.
- Keeping your back flat, inhale deeply and drop your belly toward the floor, slowly lift your head and tailbone up toward the sky, without putting any pressure on your neck, for a perfect Cow Pose.
- Go, exhale while coming back a little and round your spine up toward the ceiling, pulling your belly button up toward your spine.
- Tuck your chin in toward your chest and relax your neck muscles for a perfect Cat Pose.
- Continue doing the Cow Pose to Cat Pose sequence for at least 10 rounds.
- Repeat once or twice daily.
To help understand the Cat-Cow Pose better, watch this video.
Note: Pregnant women and those with back problems should do not practice these yoga poses.
Other effective yoga poses include Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana), Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana), Fish Pose (Matsyasana), Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) and Child’s Pose (Balasana), to name a few.
2. Take Frequent Walking Breaks
It is a well-known fact that prolonged sitting is not good for cardiovascular health. It causes blood to pool in the legs and affect the endothelial function of the arteries, or the ability of blood vessels to expand from increased blood flow.
An easy way to prevent damage to the arteries from sitting all day is to take frequent walking breaks.
A 2015 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reports that three hours of sitting resulted in a significant impairment in shear rate and superficial femoral artery and flow-mediated dilation (FMD).
However, when light activity breaks were introduced hourly during sitting, there was significant decline in FMD.
Walking is a good exercise for those suffering from cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. For every one hour of sitting, take a 10-minutes walking break.
3. Sit on a Stability Ball
Sitting on a stability ball, also known as a yoga or exercise ball, is something that people of all ages should try.
As this type of ball is not stable, your body needs to work in order to balance itself on it. This forces your core muscles to work and your body automatically tries to align itself into the proper posture. This is an important factor in counteracting some of the ill effects of prolonged sitting.
Plus, a stability ball causes you to frequently change positions to maintain balance. This helps reduce back pain.
You can use this type of ball while taking a tea break from your office job, watching TV, meditating or performing simple workouts.
When using a stability ball, sit up straight and keep your feet flat on the floor in front of you. This will provide support and balance.
4. Stretch Your Body
You can do stretching exercises to reverse the effects of sitting. Stretching helps you manage the aches and pains caused by prolonged sitting. It also eases neck and shoulder tension and strain.
Regular stretching can improve your range of motion, increase circulation and calm your mind.
The forward hang and the standing side stretch are two of the best options to try. These simple stretching exercises can be easily done standing anywhere, even in a cubicle.
To do the forward hang:
- Stand straight, keeping your feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent.
- Interlace your fingers behind your back.
- Take a deep breath and slowly straighten your arms to expand your chest.
- Breathe out and bend at your waist, keeping your arms stretched out behind your back and toward your head.
- Stay in this position for a few seconds, taking deep breaths.
- Repeat the whole cycle for 5 to 10 minutes
To do the standing side stretch:
- Stand straight, keeping your feet together.
- Clasp your hands together and keep the fingers interlaced.
- Take a deep breath and raise your hands above your head.
- Breathe out and bend your upper body to the right.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Slowly return to the center and bend to your left side.
- Repeat the whole cycle for 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Correct Your Sitting Posture
If you have to sit for long hours at your job, the most important thing you need to do is sit correctly. To a great extent, correct sitting posture will reduce damage to the spinal cord and joints caused by prolonged sitting.
It’s ideal to learn proper sitting posture at a young age, but it’s never too late to make improvements, even if you’ve been sitting in a poor position regularly for years. The key is to practice good posture all the time.
While sitting, keep these tips in mind:
- Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Your shoulders should not be elevated, rounded or pulled backward.
- Keep your feet flat on floor, toes pointing straight ahead. Don’t cross your legs.
- Keep your chin lifted and your jaw relaxed.
- Do not lean forward to look at your computer or laptop screen or even while reading or writing.
- Your eyes should be able to gaze down at the object without having to tilt your head.
6. Use a Lumbar Support Pillow
If you have a tendency to slouch while sitting, be aware that it can put pressure on the lumbar region of the spine. This can lead to lower back pain and other health problems.
To prevent slouching, using a lumbar support pillow is a very good option. It also helps maintain the normal spinal curves, which should be present while sitting correctly.
As an added bonus, these pillows help ease back pain. A 2009 study published in Ergonomics reports that use of a pneumatic support while sitting helps reduce disc stress and pain in the back.
A lumbar support pillow can be used while sitting in the office or even while driving for long hours.
These pillows are readily available in the market and come in several forms. You can choose one that goes well with your height and chair type.
7. Neck Stretches
Neck strain is a common result of sitting and hunching over a computer screen for long periods of time.
For neck discomfort from staring down at a keyboard or phone, some simple neck stretches can offer some relief. It will help relieve tight muscles along the back of your neck, as well as strengthening them. This is very good for your entire spine.
- Sit comfortably on your chair.
- Gently roll your head to the front with your chin pointing downward.
- Then, roll your head back into an extended position with your eyes facing the ceiling.
- Gently tip your head to your left so that you move your ear toward your shoulder, then roll it to the front and then to your right.
- Go, rotate your head to your left while keeping your shoulders straight, return to the starting position and then turn your head to the other side.
- Return your head to the start position and repeat the cycle a few more times, holding each of the stretches for 15 to 30 seconds at a time.
- Do these neck stretches several times a day.
8. Use a Standing Desk
Poor blood circulation, weight gain and back pain due to prolonged sitting can be prevented to some extent by using a standing desk.
A standing desk is a specially designed desk that sits high off the floor, so that you can either stand at it or sit on a high stool to use it. Workstations that are movable to accommodate both sitting and standing positions are also an option.
Working at a standing desk keeps your muscles activated and reduces the stress on your neck, back and spine, which is common in those who sit while working.
A 2015 study published in Backentive Medicine reports that both standing and treadmill desks showed positive results for improving physiological and psychological well-being with little impact on work performance.
Further studies are still required to evaluate the utility of these desks.
Earlier, a 2013 study published in Applied Ergonomics also reported that a sit-stand workstation has implications for preventing discomforts in office workers.
However, keep in mind that standing should be done in moderation, just like sitting. Use a standing desk continuously for not more than 1 hour and do not wear high heels. For every hour of standing, take a 10-minute sitting break.