April 30 2016

Posture, Back Pain, Neck Pain/Cervicalgia, Life Expectancy, Mindfulness

This study, which was published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, explores how something as small as just sitting can, over time, have huge consequences on our health.

Here are the study’s take home points:

  • More than 60% of people worldwide spend more than 3 hours a day sitting down.
  • The researchers of this study were interested in how sitting time affected our mortality.
  • To answer this question, the researchers gathered data from a past meta-analysis study, adult surveys about sitting time that were done in 54 different countries, and  completed between 2002-2011. They also looked at statistics on population sizes and overall deaths.
  • The study found that average time spent sitting among the 54 countries studied was 4.7 hours a day. This ranged from 4.2 hours a day in the U.S. to 6.2 hours a day in Western Pacific countries.
  • It was found that 61.8% of the American population spends more than 3 hours a day sitting down.
  • Sitting time was found to be responsible for 433,000 deaths among the 54 studied countries. 
  • Though the amount  increased differed from country to country, eliminating sitting times increased life expectancy across the board.
  • Of note, other studies have also found an association between time spent sitting and mortality, an association that remains even when accounting for other physical exercise.

Bottom Line

Even if you engage in physical exercise regularly, prolonged sitting of  > 3hours a day may reduce your life expectancy. If you often work or study sitting at table/desk, take frequent breaks. Also consider creating a standing work/study station. Here is a great website with innovative examples of standing workstations to inspire you to create yours!


Some personal thoughts on the study

There is a common dictum in Medicine that basically states “the less you move, the less you move.” In other words, being sedentary can be a slippery rabbit hole into less and less activity and worsened overall body function because of it.

In decades past, the standard medical treatment for lower back pain was bed rest but experience and some great studies showed that bed rest actually is one of the worst things for back pain. Rather,  gently and progressively incorporating movement is far more beneficial and expedites the healing process.

We are movers. Human bodies are incredibly designed to be toned and active. And prolonged sitting undermines this and thus, our health and sense of ease and comfort in our own bodies.

When working with someone, I can usually very quickly tell how much of the time they spend sitting during the day. The three biggest telltale signs:

  • She or he complains about chronic neck and/or back pain.
  • She or he complains about “hard to lose” weight in the mid-section.
  • Poor posture gives it away.

What I’ve encountered is that when people are encouraged to spend more of their work time in a MINDFUL standing posture, moving regularly, and they implement this seemingly simple change, vast improvements to energy, back/neck pain and extra abdominal weight occur.  If you are not motivated by the above study’s findings that prolonged sitting can reduce your life expectancy, consider this: opting for standing while working, better engages the back muscles and your core muscles which all support your spine and good posture. And all of that translates to prevention of back pains and possible reduction of pain if you’ve already got it.  There is an added more nuanced benefit to choosing to stand and move more, and to sit less especially when working. The workplace can often be an environment in which one is consumed totally by the tasks at hand, to the neglect of presence in one’s own body. That lack of mindfulness is then often taken out of the workplace and to (for example) the dining table, resulting often in mindless eating practices. It’s all connected.

When we practice self care as we work by being more in our bodies and standing/moving regularly, we are untangling those past habits of mindlessness, and I believe true healing then sneaks into all areas of our lives. 

Quick Quiz

Dance Link

You definitely don’t have to always sit on furniture. Here, it is used as a prop for the dance piece and then it is gotten ridden of all together. The dance piece is called I Am Home. Enjoy!

Choreography: Tumi Johnson

Dancer: Tumi Johnson

Music: CocoRosie, Samite

Poem: “I Am Home” by Tumi Johnson

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