Does your job require you to sit in a chair for more than six hours per day? Or maybe you spend a lot of time in your car on a daily basis? What about the habit of parking on the couch in front of the TV for a few hours before you go to bed?
Are you even aware of your sedentary lifestyle?
We all know that a sitting for a long time every day is quite destructive to our health, but it seems we don’t take this very seriously. Research shows that sitting for an extended period of time can lead to a great number of health problems over the course of time, some of them being obesity, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, a painful variety of back problems and osteoporosis. Now that sounds pretty serious, right?
When you move around or at least sit up straight, your abdominal muscles make effort to keep you upright, but when you slump in a chair, they are pretty much unexploited and being in that condition for a long time will take it’s toll. On the other hand, repeated periods of extended sitting put the hip flexors in a tightened, shortened position, leading to them becoming overworked and stiff over the course of time – and at the same time, the hip extensors are constantly being lengthened and weakened.
The muscle activity needed for standing and performing movements directly influences the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body, so when you sit, all of the metabolic process are slowed down, causing you to gain weight around the waist and increasing many other health risks.
So, your muscles weaken, your shoulders and back muscles get overextended, the spine loses its flexibility and even the brain activity slows down because of the decreased pumping of fresh blood and oxygen. Have you noticed that your circulation slows down after long hours being hunched over a desk? Yes, your blood flows more slowly, improving the chances of fatty acids to clog the heart. Sedentary lifestyle has been already related to significant elevations of blood pressure and levels of cholesterol, as well as increased risk of a number of cardiovascular diseases.
This terrible list can go on and on for a long time. But what can we do about it? Is there a way to fight off the effects of extended sitting? Especially if we are not able to change our work conditions or daily schedule at the moment?
A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers tracked nearly 13,000 women with a sedentary lifestyle for 12 years, trying to measure the health damage inflicted by sitting. Surprisingly, what they found out is that women who were the most „active sitters“ avoided almost all of the health risks mentioned above. And what does „active sitting“ mean?
It means fidgeting – making small movements with the hands and feet, like tapping with the fingers, bouncing the legs and getting up to stretch a bit every once in a while. On the other hand, women who sat for long periods of time without any fidgeting, had an increased risk of death.
So, the first thing you can easily do to overturn the nasty effects of sitting is to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour, and include a lot of fidgeting in the periods you spend on the desk. As for the next step, you should definitely try out the list of simple yet powerful yoga-inspired stretches we’ve put together for you. To get the best results, do them twice a day in this exact order by holding each of the stretches for thirty seconds.
1. Supported Backbend
Ackbends will help you improve your posture by activating the muscles supporting the spine.
Stand facing away from a wall. Slowly lean back towards the wall, with your arms over your head, supporting your body weight with the palms, elbows bent backwards. Start moving your hands down the wall until you begin to feel a good stretch in the back.
Take long, deep breaths and hold the position until it becomes more comfortable.
2. Lunge with Rotation
This exercise is excellent for maintaining the flexibility of the spine while building more strength in your legs and shoulders at the same time.
From a standing position, take a big step forward with your right foot into a lunge. Your right knee should not extend past your toes. Place your hands on either side of your right foot. At the same time, lift your right arm toward the ceiling and turn your gaze upward. Switch sides and repeat.
3. Shoulder Opener
Since extended sitting hunches the back and pulls the shoulders inwards, shoulder opening exercises are very beneficial for the chest, shoulders, spine and back muscles.
Stand up straight, holding a rope or a belt in each hand behind your back. Slowly start raising your arms behind you as high as you can, pulling your shoulders back and together at the same time.
4. Low Cobra
The low cobra strengthens the back, opens the chest and stretches the hip flexors (the muscles that get very tight and stiff from being bent in a seated position).
Lie facedown with your body resting in one straight line. Press your forearms into the floor and pull your shoulders back as you raise your head up and bend your back backwards.
5. Star Reach
This is a very easy position that nicely stretches the whole body from head to toes, including the shoulders, chest, hips and knees, providing a great relief for those stiffened joints.
Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip width. Raise your arms high with palms facing forward. Spread your fingers and rise high on your toes.
6. Number 4 Sit
Among other things, the long hours of sitting can lead to atrophy of the piriformis, a tiny muscle located in the buttock region. This stretch can help you maintain its flexibility.
In a seated position, cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Use your right hand to apply a bit of pressure to the inside of your right knee, and then slightly lean forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your right piriformis.
Hold the stretch as you inhale. When you exhale, attempt to apply a bit more pressure and lean a half an inch farther forward into the stretch. Do the same with each breath. Switch sides and repeat.