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Sitting Fit: Prevent "Movement Dystopia" 

In a 2012 study, "Too much sitting--a health hazard" by Dunstan DW, Howard B, Healy GN, Owen N.in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, (Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2012 Sep;97(3):368-76) the authors found that sedentry lifestyles are "adversely associated with health outcomes, including cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers, type 2 diabetes and premature mortality" and that "Importantly, these detrimental associations remain even after accounting for time spent in leisure time physical activity".

What this means it that many studies have demonstrated that because our lifestyles in general have become so sedentary, this trend is a health risk even among those who exercise vigorously for an hour a day. The authors demonstrate that "light activity" is very valuable in disease prevention, and that our time spent in light activity, even among exercisers, is too little.  The authors recommend an increase in light activity to break up periods of uninterrupted sitting. I have termed this lack of motion, along with relatively narrow variety of motions in many exercises people do perform, "movement dystopia." Not only does prololonged sitting increase cardiovascualr disease risk, but many musculoskeletal injuries such as neck and shouder pain, wrist pain and "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome" and lower back pain are also more prevelant in those who are more sedentary.

How can we prevent these negative effects of sitting and create or own "movement utopia" in the midst of the computer age?  Here is a summary of which muscles get tight with prolonged sitting, and some simple advice on taking breaks and stretching at your desk:

 Muscles that get tight:

  •   lower hamstrings, calves
  •    upper thigh (hip flexors)
  •    inner thigh (hip adductors)
  •   front of chest/shoulder
  •   forearm/hand muscles

Recommendations to keep the body feeling good at work:

  •   Take hourly breaks at least two minutes long (stand and take a walk around the office).
  •   Head to the gym during lunch.
  •   Stretch at your desk.

Stretching at Your Desk:

1) Leg Extensions (stretches hamstring/calf):

While at your desk, sit up straight with both feet on the ground. Keep your lumbar spine in neutral (slight arch in your back and lower abs tensed to activiate your core). Extend one leg at the knee until it is upright, parallel to the floor. Then add further stretch by flexing your foot towards you. Hold this position for three to five seconds and repeat five times on each side.

  2) Chair Lunge (stretches hip flexors):

Place one leg forward with foot resting on a chair (preferrably one without wheels!). Extend the upper trunk, while slowly moving the pelvis forward. Do not bend at the waist; the movement should be at the hips. Hold this position for three to five seconds and repeat up to five times on each side.

  3) Shoulder Stretch (front of chest/shoulder) :

Stand in a modified "fencers' stance", with one leg about 6 inches in front of the other and both knees slightly bent. Raise the arm on the rear foot side out at your side, 90 degrees to the body and bent at the elbow, with your forearm parallel to the floor. From that position, rotate your arm externally until the forearm is perpendicular to the floor. Repeat five times on each side, holding each for 2 to 3 seconds before returning the arm to paralled to the floor.

  4) Forearm Stretch- Keeping carpal-tunnel syndrome at bay:

Stretch one arm out in front of you, elbow straight and palms up. Grab the fingers of the outstretched hand with the other hand and pull back, feeling the stretch in the hand and forearm. Hold for 10 seconds, alternating sides. Next, bend the arm at the elbow to 90 degrees, still with your palm to the ceiling. Again grab the fingers with the other hand and pull back, feeling the stretch in the hand/fingers. 

  5) Bonus Stretch- Keep your fingers strong:

Place a wide rubber band around the tips of your fingers. Close and open your hand mimicking 'Pac-Man". This move will stretch your fingers and thumb and is especially helpful if you use your mouse a lot.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as personal advice or diagnosis without first consulting a health-care professional. If you have, or suspect you have a health-care problem, then you should immediately contact a qualified health-care professional for treatment.


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