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Is sitting ageing you prematurely? Part 2

In part one of this two part series, I presented the case that most people are spending far too much time sitting, as experts warn just how dangerous this is to your long-term health.

Sitting is such an integral part of our society though, and it’s not going to go away soon. Fortunately, there’s a few ways to minimise the damage. The first method is incredibly straightforward, it just requires remembering to do it!

10 times faster

Dr Joan Vernikos is a former director at NASA, and worked with astronauts to test the stresses of space travel, attempting to keep them as healthy as possible. She has written the book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals which details her findings, and how it applies to the rest of us down here on earth.

Dr Vernikos spent years researching the types of exercise that could counteract the lack of movement against gravity. Gravity is the key, as sitting for long uninterrupted periods (or prolonged bed rest) is very similar to what an astronaut experiences in orbit. This includes impaired circulation, and accelerated muscle/bone wastage. Without earth's gravity, human beings actually age 10 times faster!

When it comes to sitting, she discovered that the simple act of standing up produces profound benefits. The other surprise was that spreading this out throughout the day was better than doing it once for repetitions. This means that it’s better to stand up 32 times a day, than it is to stand up and sit down 32 times in a row, just once a day.

Airlines provide information about the health effects from long haul flights. The risk of deep vein thrombosis and blood clots is increased by sitting immobile in cramped conditions. Compression socks can improve blood flow in the legs, but you should still get up regularly to move about. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m one of those guys who has performed bodyweight squats in the exit row!

Sit – Stand (and repeat)

The good news is, that even if you’ve inflicted decades of invisible damage through excessive sitting, you can recover and even reverse much of it. Our cells are constantly renewing themselves, and everything from brain to skin cells benefits from the improved circulation and muscle contractions when moving against gravity.

So here’s the minimal effective dose:

For every 30 minutes of sitting, stand up, and then sit back down again.

The trick is remembering to do it, and turning it into a habit!

A 30 minute timer can help, which could be an app on your computer, or a silent vibrating alarm on your phone. The Apple Watch has this feature built in, so it’s pretty certain that all other smartwatch manufacturers will do the same.

When the timer goes off, stand up, then sit back down. If you want to take it to the next level, you could occasionally add in a few jumping jacks (ensure that you bend your knees to minimise the forces on the joints) or some restorative stretches (see the upcoming blog on posture).

Mirror, signal, crush!

One situation where the ‘sit to stand’ tip won’t work, is of course driving. Having a 30+ minute commute, or being stuck in traffic is stressful enough, without having to think about what all that sitting is doing to your health! As the glutes (buttocks) are the largest muscles in the body, it can be a good opportunity to boost circulation and practice ‘waking them up’ by performing static contractions.

Try this several times whenever you’ve stopped at a junction or red light. Squeeze your buttocks together as hard as you can for 3 seconds, and then gradually ease off. Just ensure that you don’t forcefully hold your breath to avoid raising your blood pressure.

You want to squeeze so hard that you lift up slightly in the seat. Fortunately at 6’3, I have just enough headroom in my Smart car...

Further tweaks

The older you are, the more likely you will need to address the negative adaptations your body has made to years of sitting. This involves stretching and mobilising areas that have become too tight at the front of the hips, and strengthening muscles that have become weak, such as the upper/lower back and glutes. This will be covered in more detail in a future post, and is a key feature of our Personal Training programme.

When prolonged sitting is the only option, heed the advice of Dr Esther Gokhale, who teaches alignment methods to manage your hips, spine, shoulders and neck. Her TED talk gives an overview of this.

I hope this has brought you some awareness of how something as seemingly harmless as sitting can actually be hurting you, and what you can do to counteract it.

Have you counted how many hours you’re sitting each day? It's a question that we ask everyone before they start their programme!

Forming healthy lifestyle habits can be challenging when relying solely on your own willpower. Set for Life specialises in providing exclusive one-to-one coaching and support, so you can take back control of your health and fitness.

Get in touch for a free no-obligation consultation by email or call Loughborough 01509 569281.

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