By: Kristyne E. Demske for C&G Newspapers, Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash
Henry Ford physical therapist Jim Tavrazich said it’s time to take a stand against too much sitting.
“It is a problem,” said Tavrazich, the supervisor for Henry Ford Medical Center Rehabilitation Services in Southfield, and Henry Ford Medical Center Rehabilitation Services and Athletic Medicine in Novi.
“At least 70% of the American workforce have sedentary jobs, and the idea that a sedentary job is easier than a physically active job is really not that accurate,” he said. “You’re in a static position (and) if you’re sitting in a way that you don’t have good support, you’re putting this low-load constant strain on joints.”
This, he said, can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue as joints get overstressed, which means that instead of coming home and being more physically active, workers may instead have to recuperate from their day of just sitting at work.
When standing in a neutral posture, the upper back naturally curves out and the lower back naturally curves in with the head centered over the neck. Standing that way does not take a lot of muscle effort, Tavrazich said. But when that neutral posture is lost because of slouched sitting, the lower back bows out, the rib cage slumps down and the strain on the neck is now three times the weight of the head.
“It’s not the fatigue of constantly walking, moving around — it’s the fatigue of the body not supporting itself in the right posture,” he said. “If you sat with upright posture and your head is balanced over your shoulders, your lower neck supports the weight of your head.”
While the lumbar discs of the low back are designed to absorb the pressure of a body’s weight, if someone is slouched and then reaches for a book or a phone, that disc now has to take 175% of the body’s weight, hastening the natural degeneration of spinal discs over a lifetime.
“Years and years of putting strains on muscles, ligaments — that weakens them,” Tavrazich said. “The muscles haven’t had the benefit of getting stimulated through movement.”
Because of that, eight hours a day is a long time to spend in one posture, he said.
Barry Franklin, the director of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, agreed.
“To a large extent, we’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives,” he said. “As a result, we’re starting to pay a terrible price.
“People who sit for hours and hours a day, even if they have a regular walking program, have higher rates of all-cause and cardiac mortality.”
Sitting too much can also lead to metabolic syndrome, weight gain and diabetes, he added.
Health professionals have focused on encouraging 30 minutes of moderate activity or 20 minutes of vigorous activity on most days, but Franklin said that while that is important, what people do the other waking hours of the day is just as essential. Fidgeting, taking short walking breaks and other low-intensity activity done throughout the day can be as important for disease prevention and health as a structured exercise program, he said.
“Many people spend more than 90% of their waking hours sitting on their butt. Accordingly, physical health professionals need to start (emphasizing that) simply getting up, moving more, moving even a few minutes each hour can have a profound impact on public health,” Franklin said.
That doesn’t mean that a career change is necessary, however.
Sitting properly doesn’t have to hurt. Tavrazich said that workers should just take a good look at their workspace and change it to support them. Adjusting the desk chair so that the lumbar support properly supports the lower back and raising or lowering the armrests so that they properly support the arms, then making sure that the computer is straight ahead and at eye level can make the workspace work for the employee.
A source for checking the ergonomic health of a workspace is at www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/index.html. There, people can see how their chair, computer station, phone and other tools should be positioned for optimum health.
“Not everyone needs more equipment. A lot of time, it’s just taking the equipment that you have and learning how to use it,” Tavrazich said.
Small breaks and changes in position are also healthy, Tavrazich said, because “the body craves movement.”
Standing up to answer the phone, adjusting the seat of the chair to a decline to open up the hips, or reclining the seat back are body posture changes that can still provide neutral posturing.
Franklin recommends investing in an inexpensive pedometer. He said a quality pedometer can cost just $25-$30, and studies have shown that people who wear a pedometer take, on average, 2,500 more steps each day than people who do not.
“If you’re in the same office as somebody else, instead of sending an email, get up and walk,” he said.
Making small lifestyle changes can build momentum, Franklin explained. Small bouts of exercise, repeated throughout the day, can have a big impact — not just on physical health, but on mental health. Studies at Beaumont have shown that women who get involved in exercise programs have better sleep patterns, reduced levels of stress and lower levels of depression.
“It’s not just function and fitness, but it’s mental well-being,” he said.