If you’re anything like me, at the end of a long and hectic work day, getting into bed is the best part. It’s the moment when I know I’ve conquered all that has come my way (to the best of my ability), and I can finally lay down and relax. But, relaxing is not quite the outcome – at least not initially. Before I can enjoy it, I wait until my back loosens from its tenseness and the pain from sitting at my desk all day subsides. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I know the importance of implementing activeness into my day and leading a healthy lifestyle. What I did not consider, was the effect that sitting at a desk for the majority of my work day had on my health, regardless of the yoga, running, swimming, squats, weights, or any other kind of exercise I was doing to counteract it. We all know the expression, “do everything in moderation” – well, sitting is no exception. Research shows that leading a sedentary lifestyle – meaning, sitting through your work day – puts you at risk for chronic pain and disease. What so many people don’t realize is that making some slight changes in routine can help with pain management and reduce these health risks.My Experience Living a Sedentary Lifestyle:
Recently, I had the startling realization that I was living a sedentary lifestyle. My once very active, healthy lifestyle had slowly morphed into a more comfortable, practical, and easier routine. While I was still getting my gym time in, I no longer walked to work and I was spending more than 6 hours per day sitting at my desk or on the couch. And though this slow progress from active to inactive was unconsciously done, the effect on my body was obvious. I could feel the damage that this lifestyle change was having on my body; my muscles felt stiff, my mood was often irritable, my lower back pain was more frequent, I gained weight, and never felt I had enough energy. Although I knew that these symptoms were partly attributed to working at my desk, I still needed to get the work done at my desk – a dilemma I’m surely not alone in having. So, I considered what options I had and made some lifestyle changes. I’ll go over what adjustments I made that really helped, but first let’s look at what the research shows of exactly how bad sitting all day can be.
Understanding What the Research Shows:There is a reason we are seeing standing desk converters popping up at workstations all over the country: the research shows that sitting all day is damaging our long-term health. In particular, we see a strong connection to risks for heart disease. In March 2018, a study was published in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine that showed people who were “consistently non-sedentary” had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease by 33%. For this study, “consistently non-sedentary” referred to those who sit between 2-4 hours a day on average. Meanwhile, “consistently sedentary” participants were sitting 5-9 hours a day on average. Depending on the type of work you do, you can very easily end up in the consistently sedentary group.
Don’t panic! This study also looked at people who were “formerly sedentary.” At the beginning of the study, they fell into the sedentary group, but two years later they were categorized as non-sedentary. This change in lifestyle showed a dramatic 48% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality for the participants who were in the upper-half of physical activity frequency for the group. In addition to increasing the risk of heart disease, postural stress (e.g., from sitting) is also the most common cause of lower back pain. According to Cornell University Department of Ergonomics, when you sit, you put up to 90% more pressure on your back than when you stand.
When interpreting these results for your own life and managing your own risk, the study shows that you need a combination of reducing sitting time and increasing physical activity to get these benefits. And while standing more is a necessary goal, it isn’t the whole answer to the problem.
So, what can you do to change it? Well, I implemented the following tips into my life and the results have been so beneficial to my health.
My Tips to Rectify a Sedentary Lifestyle:
The perks of a convertible workstation:
- It’s manual, not electric, so I don’t need to worry about plugging it in.
- It’s mobile, so I easily move it between my different work spaces.
- It’s easy to assemble, and converts my regular desk into a standing desk with the simple press of a button.
- Standing at work means I walk around more at work too!
Within a few days of moving around more at work, I found my head was clearer on my longer days. And at the end of the day, my posture wasn’t slumped forward over my keyboard, so my low back pain was way down! However, standing at work takes some adjusting (the first day, my feet ached!). I recommend using the converter to move back and forth between sitting and standing while your body adjusts.
Why you should stand while you work, according to research:
- Reduces pressure on the spine to lower back pain: You can learn about the ergonomics of sitting in this Cornell University Ergonomics report.
- Increases amount of movement in your day and burns more calories: One study found that implementing standing desks for young adults resulted in “significant increase in caloric expenditure.” You can check out the results Here.
- Improves mood and energy levels: With standing desk converters, activity throughout the day increases and with it, mood and energy boosts. Based on my clinical experience it’s worth giving this style of workstation a shot for these benefits!
- Boosts productivity: In a 6-month study, researchers found that call center workers that had access to stand-capable desks were “∼45% more productive on a daily basis compared to their seated counterparts.” You can read more about it here.
2. Get your steps in! If you can’t walk to work, try parking a little further away from the office and walking the rest of the way, or getting outside to take a walk on your breaks. The fresh air and movement will give you a second wind for improved productivity for the rest of your day. You can also try after-dinner walks with your partner or family instead of after-dinner TV. Guelph is full of trails to explore, and getting active will also help your digestion!
3. Schedule for success. It took me some time to realize that intending to be more active wasn’t enough. The space for activity doesn’t just appear; you need to make room for it. Sit down with your day planner or calendar and schedule your activity. Also, consider implementing a work routine of 20 minutes sitting, 20 minutes standing.
4. Get into yoga or pilates. These exercises are wonderful for stabilizing the core and lengthening muscles after longer periods of sitting. In addition, these styles of exercise calm the nervous system to help you manage your stress. Once you incorporate this into your weekly routine, you’ll notice more often when you’ve been sitting for too long and feel the need to walk, stretch, or stand while you work.
5. Pick activities you enjoy! There is no point forcing yourself into activities you do not enjoy – believe it or not, I see this happen all of the time.
If you need help finding activities you enjoy, consider these questions:
- Do you prefer working out in a group setting, or solo?
- Do you need guidance from an instructor?
- Do you like working out indoors or out?
- Do you need an accountability system?
In Guelph, I do weight training at LeanStrong Fitness, I swim at Movati, and I play recreational Volleyball. These are all activities that I love and look forward to, and so, I know I’ll stick with them. Most cities offer year-long team sports at varying levels of competitiveness, so look into what your area offers. Make sure to sign up for something you are passionate or excited about!
My focus as a Naturopathic Doctor is chronic disease prevention – specifically cancer. I’m always looking for ways to improve daily routines for my patients so that pain is manageable or, ideally, preventable. Understanding the harmful effects of your current lifestyle is the first step, but acting to affect change is just as important. If you need support getting started or working out a plan, please feel free to contact me. You can set up a free 15 minute meeting with me at my clinic or send me a DM on Instagram!