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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Take a Break From Sitting

Photo props -
Fact: Humans are the only mammals that sit at a desk or table (usually in front of a computer) for hours upon hours, day after day, year after year. Shocking fact, I know.

Another fact:

For hundreds of thousands of years since the beginning of time, until very recently, humans have spent their lives NOT sitting and working in front of a computer. 150 years ago, 90% of the world's population lived in rural, agricultural regions. It hasn't been until the past century and a half or so that our lifestyles have evolved into urban (and let's face it - sedentary) ones. So in a super short period of time (when you look at the entire span of human existence), we've gone from being constantly on the move to being couch-potatoes... or rather, desk-potatoes... or even worse - both.

News flash: Sitting at a desk all day is not really so great for our health. Sitting in the same position for too long can cause muscle tension, stiffness and strain. Not only that, but tense muscles constrict blood vessels, which prevents the flow of oxygen throughout your body and causes you to feel sluggish and tired. (So if you ever find yourself dragging at work, it might be because you're not moving... or it might be all the drinking you did the night before; hard to tell).

Also, when you sit, you bear all the weight of your head, shoulders and torso on your pelvis and spine (as opposed to standing, which allows weight to be distributed throughout the hips, legs and feet as well) and this places a lot of pressure on the discs between the vertebrae in your spine (think major lower back pain).

And here's the worst thing of all about sitting all day (based purely on my very own, non-scientific, not-even-very-in-depth internet research) - according to James A. Levine, an obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic, when we stand, we use certain muscles that are designed for low-intensity activity and never tire. These muscles contain some great juicy enzymes that are released when the muscles are worked (think of water being squeezed out of a sponge). One of these enzymes happens to take fat from the blood and converts it into energy and also takes the bad cholesterol from the blood and converts it into good cholesterol. But when we sit, these muscles aren't used, the enzymes aren't released and the fat just sits there in your bloodstream. Yup. It just sits there and festers (artistic license taken for dramatic effect).

So what should we do? Easy - give sitting a rest! Take a break from sitting (and even better, from working!) periodically throughout the day. My suggestion is this - for every 30 minutes of sitting, take a 30-second to 1-minute break (it doesn't have to be very long). Stand up, stretch, jump up and down, do a little dance, go to the bathroom, refill your water bottle (extra credit for hydration!), take a lap around the office or (my favorite) do a headstand or handstand (perhaps only when nobody's around so you don't draw a crowd). Do ANYTHING so long as you're not continually sitting.

This is easier said than done, I know. I'm the biggest desk-potato culprit around. I've been known to sit for 4-5 hours stretches at my desk, without so much as a bathroom break, when I get really busy at work. So what I'm going to do is start setting an alarm to remind myself to take a mini standing break every 30 minutes. Why don't you give it a try with me and let's see how we feel?

Happy standing,

oxox roxy