These words will, for many readers, bring back fond memories as the opening lines before the start of a well-known children’s story-telling programme on the television. And indeed, we were no doubt all ‘sitting comfortably’ as we listened intently as the story unfolded. And hopefully, you are reading this article also ‘sitting comfortably’ perhaps whilst having a mid-morning cup of tea or coffee in your armchair or sofa catching-up on all the latest news from the East Anglian Game & Country Fair.
But, think for a moment as to the number of hours that you do actually sit during the day. For instance, you may sit and eat breakfast, then drive to the shops, school or to work which for many involves sitting at a desk for a greater part of the day. Then, there could be the drive back home, eating the evening meal whilst sat catching-up with the family’s and day’s events, reading the newspaper or watching the television, again, sat down. The day is then finished off by a night’s sleep, this time, lying down.
If, upon reflection, this example paints a true picture of you, then there is a good chance you may have a modern day ailment called “sitting disease.” This is the new buzzword floating around at the moment that describes someone who is suffering from a sedentary lifestyle. More importantly, it may be putting our health at risk. Interestingly, in an average life time the amount of time spent sitting and lying down is 32 years!
A growing body of research has shown that a long period of physical inactivity raises the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In a report by British experts, it showed a proven link between prolonged periods of sitting and the increased likelihood of disease. A team of Australian researchers also reported that each hour spent watching TV demonstrated an 18% increase in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, perhaps because that time was spent sitting down.
And, it is hitting our younger generation. Many Chiropractors are noticing a rise in the number of young people presenting with neck and back problems due to an inactive and/or deskbound existence. At Creative Chiropractic, we have noticed and commented on the increase of younger patients presenting to the Practice with severe postural issues linked with neck and low back pains, breathing and digestive issues and generally looking older than their years.
This is hardly surprising when we consider how our routines and daily lifestyles involve less and less movement, all of which goes against our natural evolutionally development.
A consumer study conducted on behalf of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) revealed that 65% of people aged between 16 to 34 years of age had experienced neck or back pain and almost a third have lived with the pain for up to a month after spending hours slumped in front of the television. This compares to 38% in the over 65’s. “Human beings evolved as a walking entity, exploring the world on our feet,” says James Levine, MD and author of ‘Move a Little, Lose a Lot’. He also says that, “The strangest thing in the world is that people spend all day scrunched in a chair. It’s a form of physical entrapment,”
As Chiropractors, our primary aim is to restore proper spinal mechanics which in turn, influences the function of the nervous system. Chiropractic management involves the analysis of all sites of spinal joint dysfunction and, as part of that management, we work with our patients to restore and rehabilitate the body’s normal structures. This is not necessarily a ‘quick fix’ as a regime of care must proceed for a period of time to address the chronicity of the remodelling stage of the healing process. It can take anything from a few weeks to several months. The effects of abnormal posture on the neuromusculoskeletal system may be vast, often due to abnormal gravitational stresses and asymmetrical muscle forces that affect the maintenance of correct posture. For example, for every inch of forward head carriage, the work required of the muscles in the back of the neck is effectively increased by a factor of 10. In one amazing review, the researches discussed the influence of forward head carriage on the mouth, teeth and jaw complex (aka, the stomatognathic system). Here, cranium/jaw dysfunction, tooth wear patterns and most significantly, craniofacial (skull and facial bones) growth asymmetries and abnormities were found to be related to the posture of the head and spine. Typical classroom desks are uncomfortable and rigid with a one-size-fits-all design which can cause students to lean forward in their chair in order to take notes. Sitting for more than short periods of time increases the risk of injury and in the developing musculoskeletal structures in the younger generation who are vulnerable to postural trauma and muscle loss.
The name given to this loss of muscle is known as muscular atrophy and the form of muscle wastage which is of particular interest to a sedentary lifestyle is known as disuse atrophy.
In the general population, most muscular atrophy results from disuse. Sedentary jobs and decreased activity can result in loss of muscle tone and significant muscular wastage. Disuse atrophy can also result from immobilisation when broken limbs are cast following a trauma. Reduced use of a muscle due to joint pain can occur after an injury or following joint pain and inflammation and through the normal aging process. The good news is that disuse atrophy is reversible with appropriate exercise and postural/ergonomic advice.
Indeed, a day barely goes by without hearing or reading some news about rising levels of obesity and diabetes and how, as a nation, we are generally not doing enough physical exercise. Food and dietary information is everywhere and we are saturated with what is good and/or what is bad for us. It is enough to make the head spin and make one wonder in which direction to turn!
However, it really boils down to the good old saying of “if you do not use it, you lose it!” From around the world, research evidence is mounting that exercise can have significant positive effects on all age groups with insulin sensitivity, body composition, better gallbladder function, enhanced respiratory health, improved brain function and interestingly, in helping in cancer prevention.
What can you do? Something you can do is look into getting a pedometer, a device for adding-up the number of steps you walk in a day. They range in price from around £6 to about £40 depending on how technical you want to go but which ever device it is, your ideal ultimate goal would be about 10,000 steps a day. (there are also good pedometer apps on most mobile phones).
So, if you think you are suffering from ‘sitting disease’ you may well find that 10,000 steps is a difficult number to reach. I thought I would be ‘OK’ and that this target would be quite easily achieved. How wrong was I! My wife and I conducted a trial for a week to see how well we did and the results were startling to say the least! Even after walking the dogs in the morning, moving around my consulting room for most of the day treating people, occasionally getting out into Holt during lunch, and basic domestic duties at home, we found it difficult to top an average of 5,000 steps a day! As a result, we made some minor changes to our weekly lifestyle and now incorporate power walks in and around the area where we live and we walk to places where we might otherwise have driven. And what a difference this has made! Our average number of steps for a week is now well over the 10,000 steps a day and we continue to look at ways of increasing that number. We feel reenergised with higher energy levels and experience less of that ‘sluggy’ feeling which emerges at the end of the day. Our minds are sharper, and generally, we feel better!
And this got me thinking. From our findings, I would like to invite you to take part in a local ‘sitting disease’ test as to how well and to what level we are moving. I would especially like to extend this invitation to our younger readers as this latest research is of vital importance to them and their parents. I would be extremely interested to hear how you get on, how difficult you found it and whether you have made some permanent changes to your posture and lifestyle to get yourself structurally sound and moving around again.
For anyone currently walking in excess of 10,000 steps a day, I would be interested to hear your stories of the positive effects it has made to you. Just call or email the Practice and we can log your findings and if we get enough results, I may well publish them in a future article
Best of luck and I hopefully look forward to hearing from you,
For more information or to have your posture assessed, call Creative Chiropractic on (01263) 715522 and ask for a ‘free pain & posture assessment’. Alternately, a voucher can be downloaded off our website: – www.creativechiropractic.co.uk.