No matter how hard you work to make healthier lifestyle choices, sitting is an inevitable by-product of modern work life.
The Mayo Clinic made international headlines when it declared that sitting for long periods of time is linked to health concerns such as obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat and increased risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer.
"Any extended sitting — such as at a desk, behind a wheel or in front of a screen — can be harmful," researchers said. "An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking."
Related: Fitness Fact or Fiction: How much water should we be drinking?
The good news? If an individual completed 60-75 minutes of daily moderately-intense physical activity, it could counteract the negative effects of too much sitting.
While The Mayo Clinic states that more research is needed to ultimately understand the negative effect sitting has on overall health, it seems blatantly clear that everyone could benefit from moving and stretching more (or indeed, standing more.)
Annie Kirwan, Pilates/yoga instructor and marathon runner, told IMAGE.ie that stretching is a "great antidote to sitting" as it helps to ease tightness, stiffness, pain and discomfort.
"Although sitting is now a very normal part of our day, our bodies haven't adapted to being held in a seated position for long periods of time and it leads to hip, back, neck and shoulder pain," she said.
In order to reduce the impact of sitting on your health, Kirwan offers the following tips.
When we are in a seated position, our hips and legs are stuck in the same position. The muscles start to grip and can find it hard to find length when we stand; it is therefore almost like we are still slightly sitting as we stand. Stretches such as 'pigeon' (below) or 'lizard' pose from yoga are wonderful ways to open hips.
Related: Blood, sweat, profit: How the fitness industry was hijacked by marketers
It is a great idea to stretch throughout your day. While you might not be able to drop to the floor in the office to do a full yoga flow, you can subtly open hips while sitting with the 'figure four' stretch. While seated, lift your right leg up and bend it over your left, so that your right foot is now to the outside of your knee. This will start to open the outside of your right hip. This may be enough or you could go further by folding your upper body over your right legs so the stretch will go deeper into your hip.
"It is important to re-teach your body good movement and standing patterns."
To rebalance your body after chronic sitting, it is important to re-teach your body good movement and standing patterns. We are often told our hip flexors (the muscles on the front of our hips) are tight and weak. On the other hand, our hip extensors (the muscles are the back of our hips) are also weak and stuck in a long, pulled position. So as much as we need to stretch our hip muscles, we also need to strengthen the muscles. Bridge pose, lunges and squats are great ways to start to mobilise and strengthen hips.
Sit better, sit less, sit differently
Prevention is better than cure. If you have to sit, make sure you are doing the best you can.
Sit better: Try not to collapse into the back of your chair, where you slouch and rely on the chair to support you. Scoot forward and sit right up on your 'sit bones' to lengthen your back and let your muscles do a little work.
Sit Less: If you get the chance to stand, do. Maybe make a policy to stand each time you are on the phone – all those minutes add up. You could even add a few squats as you chat!
Sit Differently: If you always sit with one-legged crossed over the other or with a lean to one side, it is important to break these habits. Identifying your long terms habits and mixing it up can help balance you out. A simple change like moving your computer or bin to the other side of your desk can help you reset.
Keep on moving
In just one workday, we can be sitting for over eight hours. Taking even four minutes per hour to get up and move around will add up. Set an alarm or leave a post-it reminder to get up and walk. Most smartwatches will give you a reminder on the hour too. All those four-minute walks combined mean you can sneak in a 30-40 min walk per day in work!
Annie Kirwan is the co-proprietor of Reformation, a Dublin 4-based studio offering classes in Reformer Pilates, yoga, barre and more.
- Fitness Fact or Fiction: Is a three-minute warmup sufficient before exercise... here
- Fitness Fact or Fiction: How much water should we be drinking...here
- Fitness Fact or Fiction: Can yoga benefit your weight training...here
- Fitness Fact or Fiction: There's no time to fit a workout in while travelling...here