Is sitting down ruining your life?
Exactly how much time do you think you spend sitting? Not that much? Think again
In my experience people consistently underestimate this number, let’s have a look…
Even someone who has an active/physical job (e.g labourer) will still be seated;
- for breakfast (10-20min)
- on the drive to work (10-30min)
- for lunch/smoko (10-20min)
- on the drive home from work (10-30min)
- when they arrive to relax/watch TV/snack (10-20min)
- for dinner (30-40min)
- most likely seated for the majority of rest of the night (1-2 hours)
For all except the most active people, this adds up to an absolute minimum of 2.2 hours, and that’s if you eat every meal like a machine.
"So what's the big deal with sitting?" i hear you call out from your padded throne.
I'm glad you asked
If we are trying to maintain a good balance between switching our glutes off (sitting; 2.2 hours daily) and switching them on (exercise: average of 0.5 hours daily) then we are missing the mark by quite a margin, especially when you consider that when the average person exercises, they are definitely NOT targeting their glutes.
Let me highlight that these numbers are for someone who works standing up, which is NOT the majority of people, if you then add in an extra 6-7 hours of sitting time for those in a desk job, you are looking at around 10 hours per weekday, and around a minimum of 55 hours per week sitting on your keister.
Wait… why should we care about sitting down and glutes anyways?
As I outlined in a previous article, having good-functioning, strong glutes is about more than just filling out your pantaloons.
For those who missed it, you might also be missing out on these benefits; increased strength, reduced back/knee/ankle/hip pain, increased joint support, and improved sporting performance just to name a few.
So now that we know the situation, what can we do to combat this plague on my existence?
The first issue is that our everyday lives are not very physical anymore. We have plenty of machines to do our work for us, and virtually anything that would expose us to a physical challenge has been outlawed for fear of a workers comp claim, or someone being sued.
There are things we can do to increase our activity and we’ve all heard them before,
Park further away and walk
Ride a bicycle to work
Take the stairs instead of the lift
Take the dog for a walk
Do some gardening
Do exercises in the ad breaks of your favourite TV show
While these things are not without their merits, they are really just scratching the surface of what it takes to get your arse working in any meaningful way. The key to winning this battle is targeted activation.
The good news is that because the de-activation (sitting) is a passive activity, it doesn’t have such a pronounced effect; it is only over a period of years that it builds up and becomes an issue. In the same way, targeted activation has a far more pronounced effect and so it takes a much shorter time to begin turning the tables. Check the previous article on glutes for examples of simple exercises you can do at home!
The second issue is squat patterning.
This image is not some exceptional example; this is how ALL infants move, in fact after learning to walk, this is the only way they know to pick something up from the ground. While some might look at this now and think;
“Hey that’s all well and good for a child, but adults have different anatomy and we naturally lose that flexibility over time”
I’d like to invite you to google image search ‘third world squat’ (go ahead, i'll wait) and see that has nothing to do with age, but rather it is our behaviour that has allowed us to lose this ability. The good news is, unless you are in a very small minority with a defect of birth or development, you can reclaim it with a bit of commitment and dedication. In these countries the people are constantly going from squatting to standing (eating, socialising, going to the toilet) this is an excellent way to keep your hips healthy and your muscles balanced. The glutes are a primary muscle group in rising from a deep squat position, getting such a frequent use on a daily basis keeps them switched on and rarely do they get a chance to slack off.
The third issue is the hardest one and the reason for this piece of writing, sitting has become such an ingrained part of our lives that most people in the western world can hardly even envision a world without chairs/couches/benches etc.
In ‘developing’ countries where squatting occurs for most people at least once daily (squat toilets) a large percentage of lower abdominal disorders are virtually unheard of(1,2) in fact, adopting a sitting position for a number of activities in our lives (particularly while removing waste) has been implicated by many experts as a major factor in the following abdominal issues:
Crohns disease and Colitis
Contamination of the small intestine
Pregnancy and birth issues
Whenever I present this information to people they always look at me like I’m from another planet,
“Are you telling me to go poo outside from now on?!”
Of course the sitting toilet has been a major part of most people’s lives since a very young age, and I realise many would be loathe to let it go, with this in mind, do yourself a favour and begin to practice some extracurricular squatting.
Begin by holding onto a door frame or something sturdy, lower yourself down until your hamstrings rest on your calves, with your heels still flat on the ground, if this feels comfortable stay put for 10-20 seconds.
Building up to 5 minutes each day is a good start; then practice using your legs to stand up and squat back down again.
This will improve hip strength and flexibility, likely decrease any stiffness or pain around the hip or leg area, and may help with any of the above issues.
Until next time…
Walker AR, Segal I., Epidemiology of noninfective intestinal diseases in various ethnic groups in South Africa. Israel Journal of Medical Science, 1979 Apr;15(4):309-13. (online atPubMed.)
Burkitt DP. Appendicitis. London: Norgine Ltd, 1980.