Around 6 million years ago, the earliest human ancestor to walk upright, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, emerged. Since then, humans have evolved more and more to a bipedal lifestyle. But in the past 100 years, this has undergone a drastic change, with most Western people now sitting for anywhere between 7 and 15 hours a day. With such a dramatic change in such a short space of time, our bodies have not had time to adjust to our new habits, meaning our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is having negative effects on our physical health. This blog will examine these effects, and offer advice on how to counteract them.
Whether it’s at the office in front of a computer, or at home watching the TV, most of us these days now spend at least half of our waking hours sitting down. This of course can impact our physical health based on the decreased amount of exercise alone, but the position we sit in will also take its toll. Spending hours in one position, five or more days a week, for years will inevitably cause problems. The first thing you need to do is make sure you are sitting correctly. The best position to sit in, based on our musculoskeletal system, is to think in vertical lines. Position your ears directly above your shoulders, and your shoulders directly above your hips. Ideally your computer or screen should be at eye level to avoid placing undue stress on your neck. Your knees should also be directly above your ankles too.
Adjusting your sitting position alone is not enough to keep yourself in good health. Regardless of what position you are in, your body will stiffen up if it stays in that position too long. To avoid this, you should spend at least ten minutes every hour moving about. Whether you decide to take a ten minute break on the hour, or a five minute break every thirty minutes, be sure that your body doesn’t get a chance to settle in too much.
Whether you’re a college student taking a break from study, or the parent of three young kids, lying down after a hard day’s work can be well deserved. But between phones, TV, and video games, it’s easy to fall into the habit of spending an excessive amount of time lying down. Just like sitting, spending too long in any position will have negative effects.
Ideally you need to ensure that you don’t spend the majority of your nights lying down to recover from a hard day of sitting. But realistically, we are all going to have those lazy days and nights. What you should be aware of is how you lie down. Don’t spend hours on your back, straining your neck to look at a screen. Apart from getting up and moving around every hour, you should change the position you’re lying in. Switch from your back to your stomach, from your left side to your right, and try to take up activities that don’t simply involve staring, whether it’s at a book or a TV. The most important thing is to be aware of how long you are in one position.
Finally, if you are experiencing back pain, your sleeping position will inevitably contribute to this. First and foremost, you should not be sleeping on three pillows. This may feel nice, but it will lift your head far too much, and cause problems for your neck. Keep it to one or two pillows, max. Avoid lying face down, as this is the worst position for your spine. If you like sleeping on your back, place a pillow underneath your knees. If you sleep on your side, place it between your knees. These may seem like small changes, but they can have major effects on your physical health and any pain you may be experiencing.