If you lived 100 years ago, you would probably have been doing some form of manual labor. You would have gotten all the exercise you needed standing, walking, bending, lifting and reaching as part of your daily work. Today, however, you probably spend most of your time at a desk, and compared to your great-great-grandparents when they were your age, you probably move very little.
Your great-great-grandparents probably never thought about exercise – if anything, they might have used their muscles so often that they dreamed about having a chance to rest them. You might find yourself so engaged in your work that you don’t think of exercising either. However, staying immobile for long periods can be dangerous. Here are 5 reasons for you to move:
1. Sitting at a desk all day can hurt your spine
You might already know that sitting hunched over in front of a computer screen is bad for your back, neck and shoulders, and you might be careful to sit with your back straight, and to have your keyboard and monitor adjusted so you can use them without straining.
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Even with perfect posture, however, sitting in a chair for long periods can hurt your back. This is because sitting in a chair causes your hip flexors to become tight and your glutes to become weak. The combination of weak hip flexors and tight glutes causes your pelvis to tilt forward, placing excess stress on your lower back.
2. It can contribute to weight gain
When you’re sedentary, you use less energy. If you take in more energy from food than you expend, the excess calories are stored as fat. Having a healthy, clean diet that is low in simple sugars can help prevent weight gain. However, no matter what you eat, if you consume many more calories than you burn, you’re going to gain weight.
3. It can make blood glucose levels harder to control
A study of overweight and obese subjects showed that interrupting prolonged sitting time with two minutes of light or moderate intensity walking lowers postprandial glucose and insulin levels.
4. Sitting for long periods increases your risk of cardiovascular disease
Several studies have shown that sedentary behavior is associated with a high waist circumference and elevated triglycerides, both associated with increased heart disease risk.
5. Too much time spent sitting can lower your life expectancy – even if you already exercise
The American Cancer Society studied the activity levels of more than 100,000 disease-free people, and after a 14 year follow up, discovered that people who sat more than six hours a day were more likely to have died than people who sat for less than three hours a day – regardless of whether they smoked, their BMIs or their overall levels of physical activity.
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What can you do?
You’re probably not in a position to quit your desk job. However, there are some things you can do to help keep your body healthy:
1. Stand, rather than sit, as much as possible
If you can, get a standing workstation. Otherwise, get up around every half hour. Get a drink of water, go to the bathroom or just take a walk down the hallway and back. Take a few minutes to do some simple stretches. Work on a laptop or tablet, so you’re not always chained to a desk.
2. Stretch at your desk
If you can’t get very far from your desk, do some simple stretches. Take some time to stretch your shoulders to counteract the effects of hunching over in front of your computer screen. Stand up, bend forward and place your hands against your desk or on the back of your chair, and then do some calf stretches. You’ll still be close enough to hear the phone ring.
3. Exercise your hips, legs and glutes
Yoga is a great way to loosen your hip muscles. Sitting for long periods will weaken your leg muscles as well as your glutes. Strengthen your legs and glutes by walking, climbing, and doing weight bearing exercises such as squats and lunges.
4. Switch your sitting position
You don’t have to sit with your feet planted on the floor. Sitting cross-legged in your chair will stretch out tight hip muscles. Sitting in a kneeling position will loosen your quads.
5. Trade your desk chair for a stability ball
When you sit on a stability or yoga ball, you have to use your abdominal muscles to keep your balance. You expend more energy and, by strengthening your abdomen, you decrease your likelihood of suffering from back problems.