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For Your Health, Get Moving at Work

12/22/2017 11:00AM ● By Jon Lewis

Take a Stand

January 2018
By Jon Lewis

This year, for the sake of your health, try this: When you sit down and start working, stand up. Even better, get up and move around, maybe do a few stretches.

Your heart will thank you, and odds are your back, neck, shoulders, hips, waistline and posture will, too. And according to an October 2017 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a study of 8,000 adults found that sitting for excessively long periods of time is a risk factor for early death. The good news: The same study found that those who sat for fewer than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of an early death.

For a lot of people, though, sitting comes with the territory. Even if work means taking a load
off, Redding physical therapist Bryan Burch says there are some easy ways to put that load back on. “The easiest is literally just getting up from your work station, changing positions, doing some stretching, putting your hands over your head and getting in a standing position.”

Burch, who performs ergonomic assessment for some of his clients, says he’s seeing more desks that allow for sitting or standing. “For $500 or less, you can set up a desk area to sit or stand. I find that incredibly helpful. When you’re sitting, it puts a lot of stress on the hips and spine. When you stand up, that changes. Getting out of that static posture is so helpful.”

Given that people who sit for long periods put themselves at greater risk for obesity, heart disease and, potentially, cancer, it’s no wonder health experts frequently refer to sitting as the new smoking.

Even the less-severe side effects like lower back pain, sore shoulders or a kinked neck are no fun and can put a dent in productivity, since a lack of movement can make people “de-conditioned” and susceptible to injury, says Amy Dendas, a program director and nutritionist at Adamson’s Peak Performance.

“Lower back pain affects about 80 percent of adults during their lifetime, and predominantly they are individuals who sit for three or four hours or more,” says Dendas, who has an extensive background in training with corrective exercise.

Being more rounded and forward-leaning can negatively affect your posture, she says, as it places additional stress on the neck and shoulders, which leads to pain and even headaches. “And not just muscles, but structures of your body. Muscles will tug against your skeletal system and lead to pinched nerves.”

An occasional back pain sufferer herself, Dendas says she sits on a stability or exercise ball while working at her desk and she likes the way it engages her abdominal muscles and forces her core to be more involved. 

“I don’t have the back pain sitting on the stability ball compared to the office chair. And I have a pretty decent office chair,” Dendas says. Exercise ball or no, Dendas recommends everybody get up at least once every 50 minutes, move and stretch and get some water. “Stay hydrated! Oh my gosh. Dehydration not only affects muscles, but the fascia around those muscles. If you’re dehydrated, you’re going to feel worse.”

Matthew Lister, the CEO of Align Fitness and a hands-on trainer, says the body tends to adapt to the environment it’s placed in, so if you’re sedentary for long stretches, “your muscles will adapt to that seated position and you’ll lose the ability for other movements.”

That loss of range in motion can result in nerve impingement, degenerative disc disease, hip displacement, blood clots and even heart disease. Getting up and moving is a big help but Lister advocates for taking a few minutes and performing some simple stretches.

If time and space allow, Lister suggests getting on the floor and striking the “cats and dogs” yoga pose to keep the mid-back mobile. The basis military stretch and stretching the hamstring muscles also can help counteract those hours spent in a chair.

Improving fitness need not be limited to time at the office. “If you have a dog, make sure you walk him daily,” suggests Dendas. “Take the stairs, if it’s safe, instead of the elevator. Play with your kids and grandkids if you can. A simple game of catch is more activity than just sitting. Adults should engage in 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense activity. Try to use your breaks and lunch as a way to get to that. Remember, doing household chores is burning calories.” 

Lister says there’s power in company: “Set up some kind of structure like an exercise program and get a workout buddy. The whole purpose is to make it harder to not do it. If you have somebody waiting at your door to go walking, you will go. Make it easy to succeed.”