Since joining the EU in 1973, Ireland has increasingly shifted from an agricultural economy to a knowledge economy. While this has dramatically improved our quality of life in many ways, the change in the economy has also created a change in the kind of work we do, which in turn has had a big effect on our levels of physical activity.
Research conducted last year by the Irish Heart Foundation found that Irish people spend an average of 7.3 hours a day sitting down. This is largely due to the increased prominence of desk jobs, as well as an increase in the number of people enrolling in third-level education, although we still spend just under half of our free time sitting down as well.
Most people understand the importance of physical activity, and recognise the negative effects that extended periods of sitting can have on our bodies. These are issues we have discussed before, with weight gain and back pain being among the most well-known problems. But one problem that is often overlooked is the effect that sitting can have on our hips.
We recently discussed how hip problems, despite being associated with older people, can also affect young people. But what few people consider is how their lifestyle in their youth can affect their hips in later life, and this is where excessive sitting becomes a problem.
When we are young, it is quite rare for us to feel hip pain unless there is a very clearly identifiable cause, such as a traumatic injury or an underlying condition. Most of us will practically never feel hip pain in our youth, which is exactly why the area is so often forgotten. But whether we can feel it or not, prolonged periods of sitting wreak havoc on our hips and set us up for hip problems in later life.
As we sit, muscles such as the hip flexors and the hamstrings, which connect to our hips and enable us to move our legs, become shorter, tighter, and less flexible. At the same time, extended periods of sitting can damage the cartilage in the joints, which can gradually wear away and lead to pain when moving. Combined, these facts greatly reduce a person’s stability and balance, putting them at much greater risk of falls in later life.
While these problems will not be immediately obvious at the time, they will add up over the years and affect your health, just as habits such as smoking, excessive drinking, or poor diet will. And with issues like these, which take a long time to manifest, there are no quick fixes or easy solutions, as you are trying to undo a lifetime of damaging behaviour.
Getting people excited about hip health is certainly no easy task, but the good news is that nobody needs to focus specifically on their hips. Avoiding prolonged periods of sitting, moving about for a few minutes every hour, and playing sports are all ways to keep our hips healthy, even if that is not our primary goal. The most important thing to remember is that, apart from possibly getting some work done, there are no benefits to excessive sitting, although there are a lot of negatives, and all it takes is a little movement a day to avoid a lifetime of complications.