Text neck. Poor circulation. Fatigue. Arthritis. Depression and moodiness. Headaches. Tension across the tops of the shoulders. What do all these have in common? During my 33 years in chiropractic practice, they are all conditions and symptoms that patients tell me they have acquired from long periods of required sitting at jobs, school, and hobbies. There is a whole science called ergonomics which has evolved and addresses the problems and concerns that arise from the increased amount of sitting that we are exposed to. This article will discuss how prolonged sitting affects us and what we can do to mitigate the deleterious effects we suffer when we sit too long.
Historically, human beings have not had the opportunity or ability to sit around much. Until around 5000 years ago most human populations were nomadic. They walked to productive hunting areas to obtain food. Or they walked to productive grazing areas necessary for the cattle they raised. They didn’t get much of a chance to sit in one place for very long.
About 5000 years ago human beings acquired the technology of farming. The Egyptians are credited with the first large-scale farming operations. While this did not require a nomadic lifestyle it also did not allow these folks to become couch potatoes. Anyone involved with farming knows it involves a lot of manual labor. Even during the more recent industrial age our predecessors were involved in very physical manual jobs.
So, when we think about it, mankind has only started sitting for long periods in the last 50 to 75 years. Before that, through all of human history, we were creatures of movement. Our bodies are evolved to walk extensively, stand fully erect, exercise large muscle groups by having to carry and lift objects necessary for our survival.
However, now with preschool, elementary school, high school, college and sedentary occupations, to say nothing of our use of computer and handheld technology devices, many of us sit more than proceeding generations could ever imagine.
It’s no wonder that we suffer from maladies listed earlier in this article. Our great grandparents and great, great grandparents would probably be amazed that we go to health clubs and exercise classes in order to exert ourselves and work our muscles. Most likely they only wanted to come home from work and rest.
Yet, it looks like we are going to be creatures of a sedentary lifestyle for many generations to come. So, it will be necessary for us to take measures to counteract harmful physical effects of our relatively inactive style of living.
One area to be aware of is the ergonomic condition of our environment at work and home. It is important to have a proper chair, desk, and computer station. There is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all recommendation for an ergonomically perfect situation. We are all different sizes and shapes. There are many different types of chairs we can use. Trial and error may be the best we can hope for in finding a good chair. Additionally, don’t ignore seat cushions and padding which can make a mediocre chair into one that is ergonomically sound. Likewise, our desks and computer stations can almost certainly be improved by a little attention. Anything we can do to sit erectly, have our wrists and hands in a comfortable neutral position, have our lower backs supported in a stress-free posture and have our legs and feet in a properly supported way should be pursued.
It is certainly recommended that we also consider a workstation that allows us to stand. A quick Internet search for a variable or upright desk will yield many choices for this technology. Most of these are inexpensive and easy to install. In my practice I have suggested this for many of my patients in recent years. Those who have been able to follow my advice have been very positive and pleasantly satisfied with the improvements ergonomically achieved.
Of course, the old standby of getting up and taking a walk is probably the best antidote to prolong sitting. Whether it’s a walk to the water cooler or a stroll at lunch time or a relaxed brisk walk after work, nothing beats walking to counteract harmful effects of a long day of sitting.
Take time to evaluate and assess your workstation and determine how you can physically, initiate appropriate movement and exercise into your everyday lifestyle. In the short and long-term these measures can make a huge difference in our health and mental behavior.