Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, but recently evidence has been accumulating that sitting down is detrimental to health, so much so, that the adverse consequences of a day spent sitting at your desk – and many Devonshire Osteopaths patients are office workers  – will not necessarily be offset by time in the gym.

Sitting down might not be a benign “activity”. This was first hinted at in research done in the 1950’s which highlighted that heart disease was more prevalent in bus drivers than bus conductors and postmen suffered less heart disease than government clerks.  However, until recently, most advice on health has focused on getting people to take more exercise and little attention was paid to the effects of what people did when they were not in the gym or pounding the streets, training for their next 10K race.

So why is sitting at your desk or at home so bad for you?  As always, the evidence for something being unhealthy is some way ahead of the understanding of why. But if we compare our current sedentary lifestyle with that of our ancestors, some plausible possibilities start to emerge.  For most of human history, life has been a struggle to find food and to avoid being food for other predators. Agriculture provided some relief, but even so, until relatively recently, daily life involved much more physical activity.  Now technology brings most things to us & widespread car ownership means we can sit down while travelling to many of the things it does not.

It’s also worth thinking about what is happening to our bodies while we sit down.  For a start approximately half of our body, from the pelvis down, is, if not totally “shut down”, at best is in “hibernation mode”. Our feet, which might expect to take 100% of our weight, take about 25% with 25% being taking by the back of the hamstrings & 50% through the ischial tuberosities (the sit bones).  These two latter are not designed for prolonged weight bearing at all. Also, we are hardly using some of the largest skeletal muscles in the body – the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calf muscles and the “external stability” provided by the chair means the muscles of our trunks responsible for “core stability” have less work to do and may become weaker.

So is it all bad news? Well, actually, no.  Some research suggests that 2 mins of “light activity” every 20 minutes or so can be beneficial.  So just getting up from your desk and walking briskly to the water filter & back or standing up while you send a text message is better than staying sat down.  Light activity is particularly important in blunting the spike in glucose & insulin which occurs after eating.  So popping out to run a few errands after eating lunch is better than the other way round.

Top Tips

  • Think about the things you do during the day see how many you could do standing up or walking around – reading paper documents, text messaging, having a coffee can all be done standing rather than sitting.
  • Go for a short walk after dinner
  • If you need to pop out of the office to collect dry cleaning etc, do it after eating your lunch.

Sources:

Get Britain Standing https://getbritainstanding.org/ accessed 07/06/2016

Buckley et al (2015) The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company, Brit J Sports Med, (0) p1-6

Dunstan et al (2012) Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose & Insulin Responses. Diabetes Care, Vol 35, p976-983