Many modern day workers spend the majority of their time seated. Sitting has been described as “the new smoking” due to the ill health effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
Researchers have found that prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing chronic disease such as various types of cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Sedentary behaviors are also linked to higher levels of depression in adults. Van Uffelen et al. (2010) conducted a research study evaluating the effects of sitting for more than 7 hours per day and symptoms of depression in women. They found that women who do not exercise and women who are seated for more than 7 hours per day are 47% more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression.
Women who sit for 7 hours per day and do not engage in physical activity are 3 times more likely to have depression than women who sit less than 4 hours per day.
Other research shows that people who are sitting in front of their computers for 5 hours or more per day have an increased risk of developing mental illness, depression, and insomnia. Tetsuya (2003) concluded that mental health and sleep-related symptoms were significantly higher in the research group that spent 5 hours or more in front of a computer screen.
If modern day occupations require prolonged sitting, as a society, how can we preserve our health while performing necessary job related tasks? Vernikos (2005) states that it is not how many hours of sitting that’s bad for you; it is how often you interrupt that sitting position that is good for you. “It’s actually the change in posture that is the most powerful in terms of having a beneficial impact on your health, not the act of standing in and of itself” (Verkikos, 2005).
Although sitting is making you sick, proper posture habits will keep you healthy. Proper posture and frequent posture breaks are associated with better health, more alertness and focused attention, higher levels of productivity, and less fatigue.
5 Habits for Healthy Posture
- Take Frequent Posture Breaks: Posture breaks offset the force of gravity on your spine and supporting muscles. To perform a “Posture Break,” bring your shoulders and arms back, stick your chest out, and bring your head back with your eyes pointed up to the ceiling. This stretches your anti-gravity muscles and helps you have better seated posture. You can perform a posture break in your chair or standing. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds each hour of your workday.
- Sit Up Straight: Your spine should have an “S” shaped curvature, not a slouched “C” shape curve. If the spine rounds forward to a “C” shape focus on sitting up straight. If you feel fatigued maintaining proper upright posture, you can place a small cushion behind your lower back that will help to support the lumbar spine upright.
- Strengthen Your Core: Your “Core” musculature is the muscles that support your lower back and prevent injury when lifting or bending. A strong core is a supported spine; a weak core makes you more susceptible to back pain and injury. To strengthen your core, focus on doing exercises such as planks and side planks to work all regions of your core musculature. Avoid flexion exercises; instead focus on exercises that promote extension.
- Sit on an Exercise Ball: Sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair that lacks spinal support is a great way to improve your posture. While seated on the ball you are engaging your core musculature throughout the day and building postural fitness to support your back and maintain proper posture. It is nearly impossible to slouch while sitting on an exercise ball, with weak posture you risk losing your balance.
- Design Your Workspace: Design your workspace to support proper posture while sitting. Make sure there is enough room to move around on the exercise ball and keep your most commonly used items with an arm’s reach away. Rotating your spine or reaching forward to grab items repetitively throughout the day can add additional stress to your lower back. Also, position your computer screen at eye level. When it is lower than eye level it is easier to have slouched posture with your neck and shoulders forward because you are looking down for a prolonged period of time.
Tetsuya, N. (2003) Computers Put Workers at Risk for Mental Illness. The Telegraph, January, 2003.
van Uffelen JG, Wong J, Chau JY, van der Ploeg HP, Riphagen I, Healy GH, et al. (2010) Occupational sitting and health risks: a systematic review. Am J Prev Med 39: 379–388.
Vernikos, J. (2011) Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. Quill Driver Books.