by Alan Jordan
Most of my chiropractic patients intuitively know that sitting at a desk all day long and then lounging around at home all evening are activities that are detrimental to their health and their backs. They also believe that exercising a few times a week at the local gym will counteract the negative effects of endless sitting. It is really not quite that simple.
What is Sedentary Work?
In addition to sitting at your desk all day long, sedentary work also includes watching TV, using a computer at home, reading, doing homework, travelling by car. It is now estimated that the average adult spends 50-60% of their day in sedentary positions. Experts believe there are several factors at play when sitting or lying for too long that are bad for our health, including low back pain, the latter symptom chiropractors see.
A large systematic review (summarises all of the existing research on a given issue) was published by researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester.
Among the conclusions found were that individuals that sat the most highest number of hours per day compared to those that sat the least had a significantly greater risk of developing;
- Cardiovascular events
- An increase in death from any cause
The strength of the evidence was such that the government issued new guidelines in 2011 which were written by the Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Another panel of leading experts recommended taking an active break from sitting every 30 minutes – also individuals that exercise on a regular basis. According to Professor Stuart Biddle “people who take regular exercise may still be broadly sedentary. If someone goes to the gym or walks 30 to 45 minutes a day, but sits down the rest of the time, they are still described as having a “sedentary” lifestyle. All-day movement is now seen as being just as important recommendation for chiropractors to make for the maintenance of good health and avoidance of low back pain as traditional exercise”.
Sedentary work has far more general health implications, including back pain, than most people are aware of.
Since sitting at a desk is increasingly unavoidable at work and even going to the gym fairly regularly does not appear to negate the effects of sedentary work. We are therefore left with the option of trying to be as physically active as we can during the course of a normal work day. Experts recommend that we exercise 150 minutes per week and take frequent “physical” breaks while working. The exact number of hours that we should sit differs from person to person and no firm recommendations have been made.