By Martin Dolan
Dolan Law Offices
Today's attorneys are ultra-paced. Ask us when we need something and the answer is likely "five minutes ago." But in a world so fueled by the need to go, go, go, all we really do is sit, sit sit.
On average, we spend 15.5 hours of each day just sitting, according to studies from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
"People sit for a living," said Dr. Ivan Huergo, a physical therapist at Chicago's Physical Sciences Institute. "In any given day, we commute, work at a desk computer, work on a home computer, watch TV and eat. Even after we make time for some exercise, the vast majority of our day is spent at rest and most likely in a poor posture."
The health risks associated with inactivity are innumerable. Prolonged sitting causes muscular imbalances that can be severely compounded by a lack of exercise. He also warns that excessive sitting may dehydrate muscles, causing tightness, instability and diminishing the lubrication in the joints needed to move effectively. Studies have even linked chronic sitting to cancer and higher death rates.
There's also data that shows how pressure placed on your backside and hips during long periods of sitting can generate up to 50 percent more fat in that region; a region notoriously impervious to exercise for those of us who have targeted that specific area.
For a lot of us though, inactivity is often the silent cause behind the aches and pains we experience. A 2008 Microsoft report indicates that not only are these rest-related injuries staggeringly common (nearly 68 percent of those polled attested to suffering aches and pains), but this discomfort can have an adverse effect on productivity, ultimately putting a dent in our bottom line. Between 2007 and 2008, the 30 percent increase in "repetitive strain injury" cases wound up costing about $600 million in lost working hours. Some companies proactively avoided this loss by designing workspaces and office layouts that encourage movement as part of work activity.
So, in today's high-tech, low-mobility work life, are we damned to a perpetual lose-lose set of circumstances? We can't abandon our careers just to keep ourselves mobile, but we can offset by implementing just a few simple activities into our daily and weekly routines.
1. If we have to sit, do so correctly.
For most of us, maintaining proper posture is not natural. But as Huergo said, we don't have to sit like robots all day — feet flat on the floor, spine completely straight, eyes straight forward — that's both unreasonable and runs counter to the need to keep muscles loose and relaxed.
Instead of trying to talk yourself through proper poster and then having to concentrate on it, simply "reset" your posture twice an hour.
There are three areas of the spine which have to be targeted when doing so: the lumbar, thorax and cervical.
To reset the lumbar region (lower back), rock your pelvis from front to back until finding the middle and hold.
To realign the thoracic region (middle back), pretend there's a string between your chest plate and the ceiling and someone is pulling your sternum up. As your chest rises, let your shoulders fall back naturally and hold.
To reset your cervical region (neck area), roll only your head forward (chin tuck), allowing the back of your head to move directly upward. And gentlemen, when it comes to your posture: Do not needlessly inflict spinal imbalance by spending the day sitting with your wallet in your back pocket.
2. Get up and move.
As often as you can, look for ways to move around throughout the workday. If you're in a long meeting and it's inappropriate to get up and excuse yourself, you might be stuck. But if you're just at your desk working, Huergo suggests what he calls the 50/10 rule. Try and get up and be active for 10 minutes every 50 minutes. If you can't squeeze 10 minutes into your busy schedule, still try and be mobile once every 50 minutes. If you can, walk to lunch. If someone pops into your office offering to grab something for you on a food run, resist the urge to have it delivered right to you.
Some other easy exercises that can be performed right at your desk include:
• Gentle shoulder blade squeezes that don't enable your shoulders to move up (10 reps).
• Move your shoulder blades downward (10 reps).
• Perform a chin tuck (10 reps).
Find activities outside of work that relieve stiffness and increase stabilizer strength. Find a way to get into a pool once a week. Floating or walking in a pool can do a lot to relieve the muscular stiffness. A warm bath can have the same effect on tension and muscle fatigue.
The first step to counteracting the hazards of sitting is taking note of how much we sit and how we might be putting strain on our bodies unknowingly. For those who may have already inflicted long-term damage to their muscles and joints, it might be worth consulting a physical therapist.
For everyone tethered to their office chairs, it's vital to implement changes in the behaviors you can control. Evaluate your sitting tendencies and make incremental strides to find the best way to keep your back, shoulders and neck at optimal health.