Get Off the Couch! It Could Add Years to Your Life
Have you heard that “sitting is the new smoking”? It’s true. The amount of time we spend sitting down each day – whether at a desk, in a car, or in front of a screen – creates health risks comparable to those caused by smoking. James A. Levine, MD, PhD. who first coined the phrase, believes that people lose up to two hours of their life for every hour they spend sitting and claims sitting is more dangerous than smoking, HIV, or parachuting out of a plane!
Fact: The average adult sits for 64% of the
time they are awake.
Learn why staying seated poses such a great risk to our health and how to bring more movement into your day.
Health Risks of Sitting
The human body is not designed for long periods of sitting. When we sit, it places a strain on the neck and lower back, neither of which is designed to support the body in a seated position for an extended duration.
Research has shown that sedentary behavior contributes to obesity and metabolic syndrome. Both conditions can increase blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat, and cholesterol levels.
Sitting also impacts hip mobility by weakening the glutes and shortening the hip flexors. Together the glutes and hip flexors stabilize and support the movement of your hips. When they are weak or inactive, the lower back, or lumbar spine, takes over which isn’t designed for a ton of activity – it’s mainly there to provide support and stability. In addition to low back pain, poor hip mobility can also cause gluteal amnesia, a condition where you lose the ability to contract your butt muscles.
Pain in the Rear
Gluteal amnesia, commonly referred to as “dead butt syndrome,” occurs when the body improperly or ineffectively activates the gluteal muscles. The glutes consist of three muscles:
- Gluteus maximus – meaty part of the buttocks which is the body’s largest muscle. Responsible for forward thrust as you walk, run and rise up from a squat position and helps to keep you upright.
- Gluteus medius – located under the gluteus maximus. Serves to control hip movement and rotation. It is your chief “side stepping” muscle.
- Gluteus minimus – located under gluteus medius. Stabilizes the pelvis while you’re standing or walking. Allows for outward, inward, and circular movement of the thigh.
When you sit for extended periods of time, the glutes literally “forget” how to activate when needed for activities like walking or climbing stairs. Prolonged sitting deprives the glutes of adequate blood flow, causing them to lose muscle tone and strength. Symptoms can include:
- Shooting pain down the legs
- Inflammation of the hip bursa, resulting in swelling
- Pain in the calf muscles
- Numbness in the buttocks
- Difficulty walking upstairs
- Tightness in the thighs
- Pain and stiffness, especially in the hips, lower back, and knees
Fortunately, symptoms are usually temporary provided you take regular breaks from sitting and incorporate movements to strengthen the glutes.
No buts about it (pun intended), time to get up and start moving, or at least standing! Not only does mobility keep your joints healthy and your bones strong, but it also keeps the blood moving, aids digestion, and allows the body to metabolize nutrients. Keep reading for some of my favorite ways to get moving!
Tips to wake your butt up
- Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move every hour. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, for every 30 minutes of sitting, you should get up and move for about three minutes to lessen the health impact of prolonged sitting.
→ To help you do just that, here’s a short (less than 5 minutes) standing yoga sequence you can use as a break from sitting:
- Get on the floor and do yoga poses that engage the glutes as well as the adductors (inner thighs) and hip flexors (groin muscles). Good ones to try are Bridge, Locust, Chair and Runner’s Lunge.
- Floor not an option? (think long car trip, plane ride, wheelchair bound, or eternal meeting) Try some seated leg exercises→
- Windshield Wipers
- Seated Pigeon pose
- Ankle rotations (Bonus: aside from general health, ankle and foot movement can also help with balance, too!)
- Or try this easy seated yoga sequence
- Turn up your favorite tune and dance. One of my favorites is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” What’s yours? (Be sure to check out my Facebook page to get your 10% discount).
- Stand to work at your desk or computer.
- Take a yoga class. I can help you out with this one! See my upcoming class list here.