You may have seen the headline “sitting is the new smoking” or the one that claims “your chair is killing you.” When I first heard these almost six years ago my inner cynic teenager reaction was almost immediate. Hmm…so we now have cancer-causing jobs because most of us sit A LOT at work and we have killer chairs we need to be afraid of also. As if there were not enough other things to worry about! I could actually feel myself getting really mad and frustrated and then the sinking feeling setting in. So exactly what are we supposed to do?
Since that time I have moved from my surly teenager mindset to my say-what doubter mindset. That one held these headlines between utter disbelief and curiosity. We’ve had jobs where people sit, in chairs, for many, many years? What’s changed? I dug in and spent a good bit of time with some of my favorite researchers Dr. Joan Vernilkos, who was the former Director of Life Sciences at NASA for many years working with the astronauts and Dr. James Levine, whose research produced those headlines.
I’m going to spend more time on each of these researchers and their work in future posts but I want to share what I’ve pieced together so far.
It’s not the sitting…it’s the extended periods of sitting.
Dr. Levins created what became know as magic underwear. The studies he did with this underwear got his colleagues shouting at him at conferences and his bosses checking with colleagues to see if he was mentally stable. It seems I was not the only person in disbelief when I heard the headlines. In his book GET UP! he shares about his research and how it’s not the sitting as much as making sure there is more movement overall in your day and less long periods of sitting. Dr. Verinokos and her studies with the astronauts and other head down bed rest confirm that it’s not the sitting but that we get up less and sit a lot more in the jobs we do today. No need to get up and get a file or go send a fax, or even go converse with a colleague. Technology has made it easy for us to sit, sit, sit.
Stand up every 20 minutes.
The word is that we need to stand up and there are conflicting recommendations. Some say every 30 minutes, some say every 90 minutes and some say every 20 minutes. I have tested this and this is what I personally recommend. Set a timer and standup, merely stand up every 20 minutes. I have found that when I do this I can stay focused during that time and I actually get more done. Plus even if you are in the zone you can at least stand up if you are still talking on the phone or typing.
Standing may the “gateway drug” to walking.
I typically try and avoid gateway drugs 😉 but this one seems like a Heck Yes! I am a big promoter of moving like you were 5 years old. That was a time where your body and movement bypassed your judging mind. When you felt like jumping, you just did it. When you felt like a big crazy wiggle, no stopping you. When you wanted to climb a tree…Well, maybe you can’t go climb a tree at the office but you can check in, once you’re standing and ask your 6-year old self what kind of movement would feel good. And just do it.
Do chair pose.
So this is the big finale, chair pose. This pose will wake you up, build some strength and get you back in the game. Yes, you are sitting still, but you have to work in this one, it’s all you. Chair pose…or Utkatasana (oot-ka-ta-sa na) also called fierce or awkward pose. Don’t worry it’s a pretty simple pose with BIG benefits of waking you up mentally and physically. It will also build some muscle tone in your legs and core and provide a chest and shoulder stretch.
How to practice Chair Pose
Begin in Mountain Pose with your big toes touching, heels about an inch apart. Root your feet into the ground. Lift your arms perpendicular to the floor with your arms parallel, palms facing inward.
Bend your knees and lower down so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Lift your arms up toward the sky and sink into the hips with your tailbone tucked under. Make sure you are sitting back, like in a chair, and you can see your toes below your knees.
You can try squeezing a yoga block or holding a thick book between your thighs and let your shoulder blades melt down your back. Stay here for 5 to 10 long, deep breaths. To come out of chair pose inhale, straighten your knees, exhale and release your arms to your sides.
Try this during a busy day to recharge some energy or to burn off some tension. Want more of a challenge? You can set a timer and hold it a little longer each day or just hold for another 1-2 breaths. Also, you can lower your hips down or rise up onto your toes to take it even further.
The rest of this article is for those of you who want more details about sitting and its effects. I don’t believe in fear tactics, as they never pan out to be effective motivators but here’s the information from some sources I trust for those who want to know more.
In 2010 a New York Times article entitled Stand Up While You Read This! shared this news.
It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting – in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home – you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.
The Huffington Post’s article Sitting Is the New Smoking: Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle Is Killing You included a list of the top 7 problems with sitting and the research to back these findings.
1. Highly Sedentary People Have a Greater Risk of Developing Cancer
2. Frequent Sitters Have a Greater Risk of Developing Heart Disease
3. Sitting Increases the Risk of Obesity
4. Prolonged Sitting Increases the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes
5. Frequent Sitters are Susceptible to Muscular Issues
6. Constant Sitting Interferes with LPL (an enzyme that breaks down fat and uses it as energy, when the enzyme isn’t working as it should, that fat is stored.)
7. Sedentary Habits are Associated with Higher Risk of Developing Depression