I thought this time I had found the solution to my back pain: I replaced the old desk chair in my office and paid twice as much for a new one.
I thought a higher-quality chair would end my back pain woes. Despite the financial effort on my part, my back still hurt after hours working at my desk.
If you’re like me and spend several hours daily seated at a desk, you may want to read what science has discovered about being seated for long hours every day. (Hint: It has nothing to do with upgrading the quality of your desk chair).
Why does prolonged sitting cause back pain?
You probably know that staying seated for long hours is not good for your back. A majority of people suffer from some form of back pain – or will – at one point in their lives. It’s the second cause of disability among adults in the United States. 1
Human beings were not meant to sit for many hours at a time. We are movement machines, built to move almost constantly unless we’re reclining to sleep or rest.
As such, our lower backs were not built to carry the weight of our upper bodies for long periods, as they do when we sit at length.
Standing immobile is not the best solution. However, standing and including some form of movement is.
Now scientists are suggesting that sitting immobile for long periods of time is perhaps the root cause of many of our chronic illnesses, even if you have a regular exercise routine.2
8 problems caused by many hours of sitting (even if you work out at the gym for an hour a day 3 )
1. Type 2 Diabetes:
Inactive muscles don’t respond well to insulin, so the pancreas which produces insulin, increases it’s production of that hormone. This can lead to Type 2 Diabetes and other illnesses.
2. Heart Disease:
Inactive muscles don’t receive blood flows as well. They burn less fat which, in turn, encourages fatty acids to build up and eventually clog the heart muscle.
People who sit for long periods of time have higher rates of high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease compared to those who sit less.
3. Colon, breast & endometrial cancers:
The links here are not yet known, but one theory is that the excess insulin in the blood -due to inactivity – can cause cancerous cell growth.
Furthermore, regular movement increases the production of natural antioxidants that destroy the potentially cancer-causing free radicals.
4. Muscle degeneration:
This is an obvious one: what you don’t use, you lose. a
Abdominal and hip flexor muscles as well as gluteal muscles all become weaker with prolonged sitting. This plays havoc on your flexibility, movement, and stability over the long term.
5. Mental Fog:
When muscles are used even in mild movements, they push fresh blood to the brain and set off the release of mood and brain-enhancing chemicals.
However, when we sit for long periods of time, the irrigation of blood flow to the brain slows and so does brain function. We are not as mentally sharp or as able to concentrate after long periods of sitting.
6. Poor circulation in the legs:
Slowed blood circulation leads to varicose veins, swollen ankles, and deep vein thrombosis.
Walking or running stimulates the bones in the lower body to grow stronger and thicker by placing weight on the legs. Cases of osteoporosis are on the rise and doctors think this may be due to increased inactivity.
8. Increased chances of mortality:
In one study lasting over 8 years, people who watched the most TV had a 61% greater chance of dying versus those that watched less than 1 hour per day.
Sitting for long periods of time is perhaps the root cause of many chronic illnesses, even if you have a regular exercise routine.
7 Action Steps to reduce stress on your back:
We’re sitting more today than ever before due to the development of the internet and social media. Now that we know prolonged sitting leads to more than just a sore back, what can we do about it?
How can you diminish back pain, weight gain and lengthen your lifespan at the same time?
Here are 7 suggestions to reduce stress on your back:
1) When you’re watching TV, get up and walk during commercials
2) At work try to include some movement every half hour: Take regular breaks and move, if only for a minute or two
3) Walk 30 for minutes during your lunch break
4) Stand while talking on the phone (your voice will sound more alert). However, standing in an immobile position for long periods isn’t ideal either. If you stand a lot at work, try shifting weight from one foot to the other periodically to avoid blood flow stagnation.
5) Consider buying or making a stand-up desk, or placing your computer or laptop on a piece of furniture you already have that allows you to stand while you work.
6) Use an exercise ball as a chair: Try it for a few hours at first, then build up. By sitting on a ball you’ll be engaging your core muscles, forcing them to work as well as encouraging good posture since you’ll have nothing to lean against.
7) Use a pedometer. This will show you how much you’re actually moving each day. Try to increase your baseline amount by 1000 steps until you get to the recommended target of 10,000 steps per day.
(Side note: I attended a conference given by Deepak Chopra in Paris in 2014. He spent the full 2 hours on stage pacing back and forth, periodically checking his pedometer, while giving his speech. He was 67 years old at the time).
I feel much better since I’ve started standing while talking on the phone. Not only has my back pain improved, but I don’t have a drop in energy as I did before.
However, I’m still tempted to buy a stand-up desk!
- “Prevalence and most common causes of disability among adults: United States, 2005.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PubMed.gov
- “Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Aviroop Biswas, Paul I. Oh, Guy E. Faulkner, Ravi R. Bajaj, Michael A. Silver, Marc S. Mitchell, and David A. Alter. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2015 DOI: 10.7326/M14-1651
- Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Obesity Initiative for the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative.