How to achieve a healthy sedentary lifestyle
Lockdown makes it difficult to have a healthy sedentary lifestyle
These days we are spending an unparalleled amount of time at home, but even so, it is vital that we achieve a healthy sedentary lifestyle.
Since the arrival of the Corona measures, we are all at home most of the time. As a result, we are probably sitting even more than we do under normal circumstances. This is not good for our overall health and condition. Looking at a screen all day every day is detrimental for both our back and neck.
Common problems caused by sitting
Back pain is one of the most common problems around. In fact, research shows that 8 out of 10 people will have back pain at some point in their lives. Sometimes it's acute, sometimes it becomes chronic, and sometimes it goes away by itself, but very often it will come back later.
In my experience these problems often occur because we don’t use our body properly. We sit too much and don’t move enough. Moreover, it’s not just the sitting, it is also how we sit – and stand for that matter. We tend to collapse in the lower and middle back, poke our head forward and pull up in the shoulders.
This of course impacts our spine in a negative way. There will not be enough space for all the vertebrae, joints, inter-vertebral discs, not to mention the muscles in our back to function properly. As a result, we get tension, stiffness, discomfort and eventually pain.
Movement standard and sport standard
Research increasingly confirms that moving is essential for our back and for our health in general. There are certain standards that you can follow to know if you are moving enough.
General advice is to move with moderate intensity at least five times a week for half an hour, which can be spread out over the day. This is the ‘movement standard’. If you want be more sportive the ‘sports standard’ would be to move intensively 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes.
So in order to meet the movement standard you don’t have to go to the gym. Small changes in your daily life can be enough. So you should ask yourself:
Where can you add movement without it becoming an extra activity that you have to do?
Examples could be as simple as taking the stairs, parking your car a bit further away so you are walking more, go for a walk during your lunch break, putting the printer further away so you need to get up to get your print outs, etc.
Less sitting for less prolonged periods
But what you do during the rest of the day is also important. New research has shown that too much sitting increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, even premature death and mental disorders.
So, someone who meets the movement standard but spends the rest of the day sitting down the whole time cannot compensate for the unhealthy consequences of that by moving or doing sports. You need to move more throughout the day.
One of the effects of the many hours of inaction is that there is too little contraction in the major muscle groups in the upper legs. Certain physiological processes (such as the breakdown of fat) will stop, eventually leading to chronic diseases. So you need to combine enough exercise with a healthy lifestyle, even if it is sedentary.
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Healthy sedentary lifestyle?
Scientists are not clear yet what is healthy in terms of sitting. They have noticed that from about 8 hours of sitting a day unhealthy processes kick in. And unfortunately a lot of people who have sedentary jobs will sit on average for 8.3 hours a day! We sit at work/ school, we sit in our car/ on the bus or train, we sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and in the evening, we sit and watch tv or other screens.
That is a lot of our waking time that we spend sitting down. Way too much!
And what is also detrimental is not just the total length of time that you sit down, but also prolonged uninterrupted sitting is problematic, whether it’s 4, 6, 8 or 10 hours.
So, we really need to change our sitting culture. For this to happen we need a mentality change. We are worried about what others will think about us. That we are being weird and non-productive if we are not sitting at our desk the whole time. So we need to step out of that mentality and start moving more, all of us.
8 tips to make changes
1. Gradually make little changes, such as taking a break standing up, going to get something from the printer, making telephone calls standing up or walking. Look at what your tasks are and see what you can do standing or walking around.
2. Sometimes it is a good thing to not be too efficient. Purposefully put things further away from you, perhaps even upstairs, so that you have to get up to go and get them. Put things higher up in the cupboard so that you need to reach up for them.
3. Replace sitting (partly) by standing or moving.
4. Get up every 20-30 minutes and move.
5. Pandiculate! Observe your pets, you will see they often stretch, usually combined with a good yawn. This is called pandiculation and is an instinctive movement animals make when feeling tired. We forgot about this, maybe because of cultural rules about what kind of behaviour is acceptable or not. Start doing it again, and often!
6. Ergonomic furniture can help you to work in a better position (standing, sitting, even reclining). Check the position of your desk, chair and computer.
7. Don’t wear high heels for more than one hour at a time.
8. Learn to listen to the signals of your body, learn to regularly check your body and feel what you can and cannot do.
How you move
Of course, I wouldn’t be a Taiji (and Qigong) teacher if I didn’t also emphasize that it is not just about moving, but also about how you move!
You need to move in such a way that your spine has the space to move. You need to create more space again in your body by walking, standing, sitting more upright. And you need to move from the Dantian, the energy centre in your lower abdomen (about 4 fingers below the naval and about 4 fingers inside).
How do you do this?
- Put your centre of gravity further forward in your body. We often stand with the weight in the heels. Move your weight further forwards, just behind the ball of the foot. In this way your centre of gravity will be in the Dantian, in the centre of the abdomen, and not in the back. Your back will have to carry less weight and will become freer and less tense.
- Use your feet in order to stand upright. When you are standing, feel that your feet go down into the earth. In this way you get an upwards movement through the bones of your legs, spine, neck and up through the crown of your head (pull in your chin!). Relax the muscles, feel the bones supporting you from underneath. Feel the two opposite movements in your body, feet going down into the ground and the crown of your head pushing upwards. In the beginning it will require an effort to learn to stand this way but after a while you will feel you can stand upright without much effort.
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