For the past few years, you’ve probably heard people say “Sitting is the new smoking,” and while that is not, in fact, the case, the truth is that sitting still for long periods of time is not good for you.
According to the latest studies:
• Long periods of time spent parked in a chair at work, on the couch, or in the car has been linked to increased rates of diabetes, dysglycemia, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
• Lots of time spent sitting has also been linked to higher rates of premature death caused by cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all causes.
• Among a group of adults over 60, it was found that sitting was associated with less physical activity and higher body mass index (BMI), both of which contribute to the issues in the first two bullet points.
• The hazards associated with too much sitting are not just issues that creep up and manifest in old age: one study found associations between prolonged sitting time and increased frailty in middle-aged women.
Why are long periods of sitting for any reason associated with higher rates of medical disorders and disease? A lack of muscle contractile activity and, as a result, a lower rate of skeletal muscle glucose uptake. That is, when you use your muscles to move around, they contract and trigger the movement of glucose to the surface of your cells. If you don’t move, then you are not triggering this activity as often as you should, which leads to a decreased efficiency of insulin use.
So, What Am I Supposed to Do if I Work at a Computer or Spend a Lot of Time in the Car – or BOTH?!
Well, you’re screwed. JOKES, lol. Don’t worry: even if you spend all day behind a desk or are constantly trying to sit down at the computer to work from home, you are NOT resigning yourself to an early death. There are many ways to make sure that you are activating your muscles and potentially avoiding the health issues associated with decreased insulin use efficiency.
• Set a timer. If you have a Fitbit, at 10 minutes to the hour you get a little “verp-verp” alert reminding you that you have not reached a certain number of steps yet that hour. If you have this, pay attention to it! Get up and spend that 10 minutes actively moving around, do some yoga, do some squats or burpees or jumping jacks and get the blood flowing and the muscles activated. If you don’t have a Fitbit, you can set a regular alert on your phone that lets you know when you’ve been sitting for more than 30 to 45 minutes.
• Use a balance disc. A balance disc is an awesome way to engage your core muscles and fidget while you are seated. A domed, round plastic disc, it is not fully inflated, which allows you to rock or move easily on it and requires you to engage your core as you sit. Gaiam offers a Balance Disc in bright green, gray, and black and retail for $21.98. They are usable on any existing chair or bench in your house and are completely comfortable – I have them on multiple chairs in our house, not just the ones I use while I’m working. I have a few for the kids as well when they are doing homework downstairs: it gives them a fidgeting outlet while letting them focus on homework, which means I can focus on my work. Win-win!
• Pull up a balance ball chair. Yep, these things have been around for a while and there’s a reason – they work. They do make you sit up straight, and encourage you to use your core muscles for support. Of course, these won’t work in the car or at every desk due to size, but if you have a table or a desk with enough space to make it comfortable, go for it! Gaiam offers a great balance ball chair kit that includes the chair with low back support and wheels, the ball, a cover for the ball that is neutral and cute, plus leg extensions that can help if you are tall or a desk you’re trying to use is. Buying these separately usually costs about $123 but the set goes for $98.98, but if you don’t care about the pretty cover or the extensions, then you can get the simpler version for $69.98.
• Try a stand/sit desk. Depending on your style of desk and the features you need (e.g., separate keyboard shelf, resistant to shakiness, lots of room, cupholder), there are a number of different options that can help you to go back and forth between sitting and standing while you work at your desk. Some studies support the use of stand/sit desk options in increasing overall wellbeing in employees, but note that other studies found that the use of standing desks might be problematic in their own way, especially for those who struggle with lower back pain and hip issues.
As a mom who works from home, unless the house is empty, I have not found these to be very useful: I tend to walk away from it far too often when I’m standing then get caught up in other things too easily. And if it’s lowered most of the time so I can sit on my balance ball chair, what’s the point?
• Balance while standing at your desk. If you enjoy standing at your desk, you can take your activity game to the next level and stand on a balance board. One study found that while using a standing desk rather than taking walking breaks in order to decrease the negative issues associated with sitting all day could increase lower peripheral arterial stiffness – but using a balance board may address that issue!
Can Active Sitting Save Your @$$?
There is not a single study that supports the idea that if you sit on a nubby circle of plastic at work for 40 years that you will avoid cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, and other potentially fatal disorders. Sorry. But if it’s all about regularly contracting your muscles in order to keep things moving and processing the way that they should, then these options will certainly address that.
Though new moms with babies are like “Please…. I WISH my problem was sitting down too much,” mamas of older kids who have to get everyone where they need to be for sports, debate club, band, church – basically, all the things – plus commute and run errands and sit at a desk know that the struggle is real. Do a Shot of Yoga is all about finding the little ways that we can insert positive or healthy yoga choices into our lives to improve wellbeing painlessly, and this is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to do it. Win-win-win!
I used the balance ball chair for a week while working at home and then dedicated another week to using the balance disc. I loved the balance ball chair – for about 45 minutes to an hour. It does take a lot of work and there’s no opportunity to “cheat” and slouch. While this is the point, at a certain point, I need to be able to focus more on my work than whether or not I was engaging my core muscles – but it’s definitely effective. My goal is to work up to the point where I can stay seated on the ball for longer and longer periods of time, and I keep one right near my desk for easy transfer in and out of use.
The balance disc I loved. I bought a few of them and put them around the house in my different work stations, where the kids do homework, and at the older kids’ desks in their rooms. When I notice that I’m sitting on it, I can really make use of it, sitting up and engaging the core muscles to relieve pressure in my lower back. When I’m focused on my work, it’s not bothersome but it’s still working: after a few hours, my back starts to get tired because my core has stopped working. Gets the job done without feeling like an added chore – that’s pretty much my goal for everything.
What Do You Think?
Do you use any active sitting devices? What’s your experience – love it, hate it, find it tedious, find that it works or doesn’t? Leave a comment below with your favorite active sitting tools, and if you end up buying one and giving it a spin, post a picture on Instagram and tag us @ShotofYoga!
Gaiam is running a deal right now, which should lop off about 20 percent of your total and make some life saving active sitting that much easier on the wallet.
(September 2018) Too much sitting and dysglycemia: Mechanistic links and implications for obesity. Current Opinion in Endocrine and Metabolic Research. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2451965018300115.
(May 2018) Physical activity and sedentary behavior in the cancer prevention studies. Athenaeum at University of Georgia. Retrieved January 2019 from https://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/handle/10724/38345.
(January 2018) Sedentary Behavior Is Associated With Low Leisure-Time Physical Activity and High Body Fatness in Older Brazilian Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Retrieved January 2019 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827617753355.
(June 2018) Association of 12-Year Trajectories of Sitting Time With Frailty in Middle-Aged Women. American Journal of Epidemiology. Retrieved January 2019 from https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/187/11/2387/5032618?redirectedFrom=fulltext.
(April 2018) Standing Desk Wellbeing Analysis: The Effects of Standing Desks and Greenery in the Workplace. University of British Columbia. Retrieved January 2019 from https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/undergraduateresearch/18861/items/1.0374200.
(May 2018) Prolonged Standing Increases Lower Peripheral Arterial Stiffness Independent Of Walking Breaks: 2251 Board #87 June 1 11. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Retrieved January 2019 from https://insights.ovid.com/medicine-science-sports-exercise
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