You may not realize it, but being an office worker is a very dangerous job. Sitting too much is directly linked to an early death from a range of causes. It is literally a risk factor for most diseases in the modern world! These include diabetes, heart conditions, mental health conditions, knee pain, low back pain, neck pain and pretty much EVERY SINGLE OTHER pain. It is such a problem in the modern world, that some refer to it as the new smoking.
For most of us, some sitting is unavoidable. We sit at work, during our commute, and then at home. Here are 6 ways you can help counteract the detrimental effects of sitting on your health.
#1: Get up from your desk every 30 minutes
It is being stuck in the same position for too long that is the real danger. We know that being in the same position for longer than 30 minutes causes your muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues to shorten and tighten. Therefore, the real answer, as simple as it is, is to MOVE MORE!
Interestingly, the research has shown that the positive effects of exercise do not cancel out the detrimental effects of sitting all day. In other words, going to the gym 1-hour per day, whilst good and recommended, does not cancel out the negative effects of sitting for 8-hours per day. People need both exercise and incidental exercise: as well as going to the gym, people also need to make sure they are moving throughout the working day. Make sure you get up and move at least every 30 minutes for maximum benefit.
#2: Stretch the muscles that get tight from sitting
If you are sat all day, make sure you regularly stretch out the muscles that tighten up. If they spend hours in a shortened position, you want to lengthen them whenever you get the opportunity. Remember, a muscle that can’t relax can’t generate any power. We see this in the weekend warriors who sit all week and then expect to be able to sprint across the football pitch, run without injuries or play netball without hurting their ankles and knees. Sitting shortens your hamstrings; tight hamstrings can’t generate power. It’s no wonder that hamstring strains and tears are one of the most common injuries amongst weekend warriors. However, this rule applies to all muscles in the body.
Muscles that regularly tighten up with sitting include the neck, the low back and the hips. If you are prone to a tight neck and shoulders, make sure you stretch out your upper trapezius, levator scapulae (shoulder blade muscles) and pectoralis major (chest muscles). If you are prone to a tight lower back or hips, make sure you stretch your hip flexors and low back. If you are prone to a tight mid back, make sure you work on your thoracic rotation. If you don’t know how to stretch these muscles, Google it. There are a million options online.
#3: Strengthen the muscles that get weak from being in a seated position
I know how much you love sitting on that foam roller or spikey ball for 30 minutes every night, however only stretching/massaging/foam rolling/releasing is not going to cut it. You are not getting better as quickly as you could because you’re not actually working on STRENGTHENING the muscles that are weak. You need to get STRONGER. Yes, it inherently takes more effort to do your strengthening exercises than just going for a massage. However, the pay offs are definitely worth it.
Great places to start are working on strengthening your shoulder retractors, glutes and hamstrings. If you sit curled over a computer all day, train the opposite! Work on hip and mid back extension to straighten you back up.
#4: Work on your mental health and resilience to stress
If you still believe that mind and body are separate, you are not up to date with Western medicine. When you are stressed, you store tension in your body. It’s that simple. High levels of stress, lack of support from supervisors or the fact that you just downright dislike your job are all known risk factors for musculoskeletal conditions. Therefore, if you get pain whilst at work, make sure you are addressing the mental components of pain. This means working on managing your stress and becoming creative about figuring out solutions for addressing those aspects of work you are unhappy with. It doesn’t mean you need to retire now and move to a monastery. Stress is not inherently bad; most people thrive off some level of stress. However everyone can improve how they react to stress in their lives. More often than not, it is interpersonal and requires courageous communication. If it means a tough conversation with a co-worker or boss, do it. Your physical health as well as your mental health will be better for it.
#5: If you do have to sit, make sure it’s ergonomically set-up
Look, we’re realists. We get that some sitting is unavoidable; we all need to make money. However if you do have to sit, make sure your workstation is ergonomically designed (oh, and by the way, most car seats and the couch at home are not ergonomically ideal). The computer should be at eye level, the table at a comfortable arm level and your chair should be able to get you right in close to the computer. Monitors are better than laptops. A sit-stand desk is even better and something we encourage a lot of employees to get. Find out your workplace’s policy about getting one. We regularly write letters to employers on behalf of our clients. It doesn’t require standing all day; it is more about having the option to vary movement. Even if you sit perfectly all day, you are still sitting and that is still detrimental. How you sit is not as important as making sure you simply move more.
#6: Get assessed.
If you are an office worker and you do suffer from pain or stiffness, get professionally assessed. Nothing beats getting individual advice and having support from a professional who can design a plan that is tailored specifically to you and your body. You can do all the Google exercises in the world, but that doesn’t mean that they are the most appropriate ones for YOU. Respect yourself enough to get educated about what is going on and understand what your body is trying to tell you when something hurts.
At Kinetic Healthcare, we are always here to help. We are located both in the Sydney CBD and Narellan. Call us now on 8091 6745 or visit our website www.kinetichealthcare.com.au to book an appointment with one of our rehab experts.