Sorry, Sitting Isn’t Really That Bad For You

Here is rehab expert Mike Reinold’s article on sitting:

Over the last several years, the health concerns surrounding sitting have really been highlighted by the health and fitness crowds, as well as the mainstream media.  In fact, there have been entire books published on this topic.  I’ve seen articles with titles such as “Sitting is Evil,” “Sitting is the New Smoking,” and even “Sitting will kill you.”

Wow, those seem pretty aggressive.  We’ve been sitting since the beginning of time!  I’m going to really shock the world with this comment…

Sorry, sitting isn’t really bad for you.

Yup.  There is nothing wrong with sitting.  I’m actually doing it right now as I write this article.  You probably are too while you read this article.

Don’t get me wrong, sedentary lifestyles are not healthy.  According to the World Health Organization, sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality and raises the risk of health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even depression and anxiety.

But let’s get one thing straight:

It’s not sitting that is bad for you, it’s NEVER moving that is bad for you.

By putting all the blame on sitting, we lose focus on the real issue, which is lack of movement and exercise.  We are seeing a shift in people switching to standing desks at work, still not exercising, but thinking that they are now making healthy choices.

This is so backwards it boggles my mind.

It it all begin with the negative myth that “sitting is the new smoking” and completely ignores the true issue.

The body adapts amazingly well to the forces and stress that we apply to it throughout the day.  If you sit all day, your body will adapt.  Your body will lose mobility to areas like your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine.  Your core is essentially not needed while sitting so thinks it’s not needed anymore during other activities.  And several muscles groups get used less frequently while sitting and weaken over time, like your glutes, scapular retractors, and posterior rotator cuff.

Your body is a master compensator, and will adapt to the stress applied (or not applied) to make your efficient at what you do all day.

Unfortunately, when all you do is sit all day, and you never reverse this posture or exercise, your body adapts to this stress to make you the most efficient sitter.
That’s right, you get really good at sitting.

For example, think about what happens to the core when you sit all day.

One of the functions of your core is to maintain good posture and essentially to keep the bones of your skeleton from crashing to the floor.  The core is engaged at a low level of muscle activity throughout the day for postural needs.

The problem with sitting is that the chair also serves this function, so your core isn’t needed to keep you upright, the chair serves this function. If sitting is all you do, then when you stand up, your core essentially isn’t accustomed to providing this postural support so you rock back onto your static stabilizers by doing things like standing with a large anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension.

Unfortunately, this becomes the path of least resistance, and most energy efficient, for your body.  Your core gets used to relying on the chair to function, then when you need it, gets lazy.

Despite what you may read in the media, it’s OK to sit all day.  That is, as long as you are reversing this posture at some point.  This can be as specific as exercises designed to combat sitting and as general as simply taking a walk in the evening.

3 Strategies to Combat Sitting All Day

I want to share the 3 things that I often discuss with my patients.  You can apply these yourself.  But if you sit all day, you really should:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

But the real first step is to stop blaming sitting and start focusing on the real issue.  It’s lack of movement and exercise that is the real concern, not sitting.

Step 1 – Move, Often

The first step to combatting sitting all day is to move around often.  The body needs movement variability or it will simply adapt to what it does all day.

I get it, we all work long days, and sitting is often required in many of our jobs.  But the easiest way to minimize the effects of sitting all day is to figure out ways to get up and move throughout the day.

This doesn’t need to be 10 minutes of exercise, it could simply be things like getting up to fill up a water bottle or taking quick 2 minute walk around the office.  When I am not in the clinic or gym, I personally tend to work in my home office.  What I do is try to work in one hour chunks, so I will get up and walk around in between chunks to get a glass of water, snack, or use the bathroom.

This works well for me, but you need to find what works for you.  I know of others that use things like Pomodoro timers, or even some of the newer fitness tracking devices, which can remind you to stand up and move around at set times.

Step 2 – Reverse Your Posture

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years.  The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse. Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful.

Step 3 – Exercise

Remember going back to some of the past concepts above, the body adapts to the stress applied.  To combat this perfectly, a detailed exercise program that is designed specifically for you and comprehensively includes a focus on total body and core control is ideal.

This will assure that the muscle groups that are not being used while sitting all day get the strength and mobility they need, while the core gets trained to stabilize the trunk during functional movements.

If you want to get the most out of your body and stay optimized, you need to do things like work on your hip and thoracic spine mobility, strengthen your rotator cuff, groove your hinge pattern, and learn how to deadlift and work your glutes.

Sitting Isn’t Bad For You, Not Moving Is

As a profession, we need to get away from blaming sitting as the enemy and labeling it evil.  Our society is sitting more and more each generation.  We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that sitting isn’t the problem, it’s not moving enough that is the concern.  We need to stop pointing fingers and get to the root of the problem.

Go ahead and sit, just move more often and use these 3 strategies to combat sitting all day.

Written by Mike Reinold, PT

Sit yet move…

Dr. Phil Kotzan, DC