Let me tell you the story of a friend of mine, a bright chap called Herman.
Herman is an Information Technology specialist, and is called in on a rainy Friday evening to fix the crashed systems of large multinational company, one of his biggest clients. He dashes to their offices. The systems need to be up and running as fast as possible, but it is a complex problem. Twenty-four hours later, mostly spent sitting in front of computers, do not result in a breakthrough.
After 28 hours, the systems are restored and the client is happy with Herman's dedication to his work. This latest victory gives Herman a bounce in his step despite his exhaustion.
Herman drives back home but can't sleep, so he watches television for three more hours, then blacks out on the couch.
When Herman wakes up he has a pain in his left foot, which is warm and swollen. He has trouble walking. Troubled, he calls a good friend who takes him to the hospital.
Doctors tell him that he has a case of deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot as a result of poor blood circulation usually caused by lack of frequent motion. Loosely put, he was sitting for prolonged periods of time due to the nature of his work, and this triggered his health crisis. If he had waited a few more hours, the clot could have traveled to his lungs and possibly killed him.
It's funny how seemingly innocuous things like sitting can turn our lives around on a dime.
We spend a lot of time sitting down: at the office from 8 to 5, during lunch at our desks, the canteen or restaurants, in matatus or in our cars on the way home and later as we catch up with family.
Our bodies are suited to it, but they are not built for it.
Human bodies are structured to be on the move. We have over 700 skeletal muscles and 360 joints. Our blood needs to move around to be able to circulate well through our bodies. Our nerves are spurred by motion and our skin is elastic and adapts when we move our limbs. We are able to stand and walk, against the pull of gravity. We are well adapted for motion.
Yet studies show the average human spends close to 13 hours a day seated. In fact, you might be seated while reading this article. How many hours have you spent sitting today? Since you have kept the same routine for years, has there really been any effect?
While sitting for brief periods can help us refresh after a workout or recover from stress, doing it for long periods can be detrimental over time, affecting your health, productivity and quality of life.
Studies show that spending more than six hours a day sitting can be a trigger for various health complications.
Most people when sitting find themselves seated with a curved back, hunched forward. While this may feel comfortable, it puts stress on your spine over time. It can lead to wear and tear on your spinal discs, muscles and ligaments.
Poor posture also temporarily constricts your chest cavity, meaning your lungs are not expanding and contracting to capacity. This leads to lower oxygen levels in your blood - which affects your concentration, and diminishing your work efficiency.
Long sitting periods limits the blood flow to arteries and veins, leading to numbness, swelling and potential nerve damage to your lower limbs.
Chances of chronic inflammation increase if you sit too much.
We all have a crucial enzyme called Lipoprotein Lipase, which helps us break down fatty acids in blood. Sitting for long periods slows down or deactivates the enzyme, slowing your metabolism.
Bad cholesterol (LDL) levels go up while good cholesterol (HDL) levels go down.
This is definitely not good for your body and over time you may develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, get pancreatic overload, obesity problems or a likelihood for cancer.
But I work out often, so that covers my quota for daily motion, right?
Well, not quite. The thing is, even if you go to the gym regularly,yet you still spend a good chunk of your day sitting around, you may be slowing down or stagnating your gains towards wellness. You are still at risk. Arguably, you would be an 'active couch potato'.
Sitting less than three hours a day can boost your life expectancy by 2 years.
But how do we achieve a balance between staying productive in our workplaces full of chairs while improving our body health with regular motion?
Here are a few practical tips you could adopt:
At home :
Take some time out to go to the gym or even work out from home. Work out for at least 30 minutes a day, with a high intensity rhythm. This will spur you to be more active across the day.
Keep moving as much as possible. Don't stay planted for hours in front of the TV without motion breaks. Get up, get some water and return to finish that movie. Encourage your family members to do the same.
At the office :
When seated, always sit upright. It's good for your spine and chest cavity. If your seat is the problem, seek a solution that works for you.
Radical idea: for short work meetings, choose to stand. If the meetings are long, allow your colleagues to stretch their legs after every hour. It will boost concentration too!
Pace often. When waiting for a cup of coffee to be ready, or waiting for the printer to do its work or simply answering a call, pace a little.
During tea or lunch breaks, choose to eat while standing if it suits your space. If not, make sure you take a walk after meals.
Get up and move after every 1-2 hours of continuous sitting.
Where possible, use standing work stations. Standing helps increase concentration due to better blood flow, giving you better posture and core strength. As you stand, move step and shift your stance occasionally - it's good for your limbs.
Do simple stretches if you cannot leave your station. Hip flections, stretching legs, heel-toe raises and simply standing and sitting 5-10 times can help you get some relief without leaving your seat.
Now that you are done reading this article, why don't you stretch your legs for a minute or two? Your body will thank you for it in the long run!