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Sitting and Other Wild and Risky Modern Habits

We are built to move. The human body is a miraculous mechanical structure of levers, pulleys, winches and tethers designed to harness the power of energy into movement. Unfortunately, we barely need to move to survive in our modern environment, so significant numbers of people have become sedentary, resulting in preventable health crises. Life in ancient cultures was very vigorous compared to today and yet, even those folks practiced exercise and movement activities beyond their daily chores.

bad-cpu-postureFast forward to the post-industrial revolution, where American lives grew cushy with modern tools to do our human “work” at jobs and around the house. The 1950s brought us Jack LaLanne, television’s first fitness personality, after many US soldiers drafted during World War II were so physically unfit they had to be placed in noncombat jobs. Around this time, researchers began to clearly identify the “components of fitness”: cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

The first fitness guidelines were created and tested in US schools in the 50s, obtaining baseline “normative” data about average fitness of our kids. Not much changed until the early 70s, when Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a retired military physician published his most famous books, Aerobics and Run for your Life. In an instant, it was as if he began the transformation of public health awareness as he shared the first clear evidence about exercise and disease prevention.

The 1970s American landscape was littered with our first real joggers (and streakers)! Unfortunately, that is when we also began our love-hate fitness relationship and obsessive focus on bodyweight and cardiovascular exercise. The jogging revolution was closely followed by the 80s dance-aerobics explosion, legwarmers and all. With this greater awareness of disease prevention, gyms and fitness classes blossomed along with crazy fads.

To help apply the science for the public health, the first standards for cardiovascular fitness were published in 1974 and remained exactly the same until the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) made slight modifications in 1995. The Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription were only modified slightly to clarify “intensity” of cardiovascular activity, but nothing was included about musculoskeletal health prevention or practices. Much of the problem is there was not enough research done yet, so the science was, and is, still behind the curve.

Today’s statistics hint that we may be paying the price for this oversight, both individually and in US health economics, as joint replacements and other orthopedic surgeries are skyrocketing and at younger ages. Perhaps hard to believe, but the ACSM did not again update the exercise Guidelines for Physical Activity & Public Health until 2007, when it finally added a recommendation for strength activities– with a small nod to musculoskeletal health!

Compared to our grandparents and parents, today we are required to sit excessively, limiting our physical movement in all parts of society, transportation and play. Researchers are only just beginning to discover the vast scope of health consequences from “improved” re-engineered modern spaces (offices, cars, public areas/ built environments) that limit human movement. Data indicates that affluent countries now spend 70% or more of their waking hours sitting. Remember—our bodies are designed to move! During the past five years, disturbing scientific evidence reveals that not only do we recognize our original risk group of people who qualify as ‘sedentary’ (“lack of moderate-to-vigorous” levels of activity) but we must adopt a new paradigm to differentiate a totally separate risk category for those who practice habitual sedentary behavior (too much sitting), hence the recent news articles titled “Sitting is the New Smoking.” What the statistics actually show is that excessive sitting behaviors are associated with our current tsunami of chronic health problems, regardless of exercise habits. This means that even those who exercise at the gym every day, but also sit many consecutive hours at work are still in a greater disease risk category than they hoped. Our lifestyle is undermining health, even with gym membership usage. Once again these studies focused on cardiovascular health, where we have already spent many millions of dollars for the last 30+ years. How is it possible that our mechanical research accomplishments have allowed us to fly to the other side of the world in hours, but we still have not learned important facts about care and feeding of a human body?

While public health information saves lives, it seems clear that we cannot count on the slow information we receive from the higher institutions and we must educate ourselves to practice our own self-care. Revolutionary self-care education efforts are indeed underway, thanks to some of the research pioneers like Jill Miller. When I took my first Yoga Tune Up® class, I loved how I felt and also valued that students were learning to care for their own musculoskeletal health and stress reduction. But what completely hooked my inner nerdy- demanding- scientist self into a silent happy dance, was the fact that Jill Miller extrapolates this work from established science, yoga, AND the most current research known yet by few!!

Tune in on Friday for a little more satire on the history of strength training plus a simplistic breakdown of how science is actually baked into the secret sauce of Yoga Tune Up®. Best. Recipe. Ever.

 

If you liked this article, read Sitting is the New Smoking

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About This Author

Diane earned a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology from California State University as well as numerous fitness certifications. She taught undergrad Physical Education at Sonoma State University, where she also conducted and published research in aquatic strength training. Leaving campus life behind to accept a role with the US Army Medical Department as a research Exercise Physiologist & Analyst, her team investigated mind-body constructs and chronic disease among our soldiers and retirees. Diane has a passion for helping ‘regular folks’ who sit too much, manage pain conditions or seek post-injury recovery. YTU® has been an amazing vehicle for self-management of pain while providing a new, evidence-based teaching vehicle for her clients.

Sitting and Other Wild and Risky Modern Habits

  1. Michelle Pitman says:

    An important point, that gym goers who then sit for 8+ hours at work each day, are also prone to the limitations and risks associated with chronic sitting. Thank you for pointing that out!

  2. Cintia Hongay says:

    Chairs are the culprit! I have a ball (ball chair) in my office so that even if I have to sit to type, I am tubularizing my core, and engaging more muscles to stabilize than if I were to sit on a regular desk chair. There are also desks that convert so that you can be upright, and sine even come with a trail mill incorporated. Most humans in other parts of the globe squat if they need to “sit”. So chairs and bad posture (my 15 year old playing computer games) are damaging the bodies of our young.

  3. Marie says:

    Such an interesting and eye-opening article! It gives more perspective to a problem that is affecting our whole society but that is often completly overlooked.

  4. Austin Way says:

    This was a great blog post and even better image depicting our current direction of human evolution. It’s amazing that even though we understand how certain actions may be negative on our bodies we still go and do them.

  5. Emily Lunoe says:

    Very interesting article. It makes my back hurt right now while i’m sitting here typing : ) We are most certainly build for movement. I always regret days where I let exercise slip for other duties. Good days almost always involve moving all my levers, pulleys, winches and tethers!

  6. Lisa Ricci says:

    Hi Diane,
    I found the reference your post makes to affluent countries to be particularly interesting. The idea of affluence, and occupations of status seems inextricably connected to the notions of sitting (with a few exceptions, such as professional athletes, who have their own set of imbalances) Like so many supposed ‘modern’ technologies and inventions, your article brought me to challenge the modern notion of affluence and privilege. In many ways, a return to more primitive behaviours and lifestyles would be of greater service to our overall wellbeing.

  7. Ali Bell Ali Bell says:

    Thanks Diane- as someone who is the office odd-ball with a standing desk I appreciate the commentary on how our body adapts to what it does the most – and that those adaptations are not always beneficial.

  8. Sonia says:

    Years ago I too used to sit a lot. I would spend hours in the evening on the computer. It wasn’t until I found Katy Bowman while pregnant with my 3rd child that I realized how all my sitting was really hurting me. I began to do more walking and less sitting and that pregnancy ended up being my easiest and healthiest. I don’t think I had any of the pain I had with the previous pregnancies and I really believe the pain I suffered had to do with the sitting.. and probably the lack of walking too.

  9. This was a great blog post. It’s amazing that even though we understand how certain actions may be negative on our bodies we still go and do them. I work a full time desk job and find myself doing all of the stuff I should not. Good blog and advice to keep in mind during daily work practice. I can also forward this to my colleagues and have Move-ment in the office.

  10. Mary Aranas says:

    Great article and I love the pictorial image of evolution! Sobering; especially as a movement professional I still spend HOURS at a computer completing online homework, research, marketing, and communications! And when I take YTU or other trainings, HOURS sitting discussing listening watching! Fortuitously I guess, my body shouts NO quite quickly to these sit-hours; so what with adding stretching postures during class and varying computer positions and taking computer breaks I’m listening and responding to that body that is designed for movement. Thanks to YTU trainings for building in movement segments like ball work and group and partner work to even the most lecture and discursive style classes. And WE as yoga educators have the privilege of waking up our students to that same body listening device that can help prevent and reverse the epidemic of technology induced sedentary chronic disease patterns!

  11. Alison says:

    It is joyous to know that history teaches us what we need to learn, or give us the idea on what we should learn about. In the modern world, technology does not only give us adversities over all as we also use technology to prevent or treat injuries and diseases. Now, we create ergonomic spaces and things, provide recreational areas such as gyms, manufacture equipment such as strollers for active moms and the like for the sake of having better health. I agree with you that we are built to move and I am glad that a lot are starting to disembark these wild and risky modern habits. Great insights Dianne! 🙂

  12. Shelley Lambert says:

    Getting a standing desk has made a huge difference in my life. Before it, my hips and lower back would ache. I was more likely to sit still for longer periods of time than I am to stand still. When I am standing, I am actually also much more attentive to my work, and I believe more productive. Thanks for you article, I had seen the “Sitting is the new Smoking” one already, and really feel that I am much better off standing through the day instead of sitting.

  13. Missy says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I have literally tuned down job offers that required 8 straight hours of sitting at a desk because I could not tolerate the thought of keeping my body immobile and hunched over for an entire work day. In my current job, I am constantly moving and walking which I find very energizing. On a rare day that I do a lot of sitting, I definitely notice tension in my back, neck, shoulders as well as tightness in my hamstrings. In my opinion, sitting for several consecutive hours is completely exhausting. I have friends who have asked their employers for walking or standing desks, but the request is usually denies because the desks are so expensive. What employes don’t take in to account is time lost due to sickness or developing back problems.

  14. Julie Thomas says:

    Diane,

    Great blog! We are so behind on the”Must do” on our body biomechanics or should I say” avoid at all cost” list. I just read the “Sitting is the new smoking” how eye opening is that for our youth especially. We can change ourselves but we must educate our youth about how to better take care of themselves early on. Motion is lotion after all!!!

  15. Tamar says:

    Diane, Thanks for the reminder. It is terribly ironic that our technology has evolved so rapidly and perhaps the greatest impact it has had is to rob us of our health. I recently married and school teacher and now have a glimpse into the world of public school (I was homeschooled) we force are kids from the age of six till they are 18 to sit in a chair and pay attention. Is it any wonder this is a challenge or that the health of the first world is in decline.

    TDT

  16. Elizabeth Murray says:

    Hi Diane,

    Enjoyed reading the history of human movement and how modern technology has impacted our health. After my first yoga tune up class I gained a lot of insights on my own health. I spend usually ten to twelve hours working in front of a computer and I wasn’t aware of how much my spine and shoulder were impacted by the constant sitting.

    As you write, we have to educate ourselves on self care. And reading articles like yours, certainly, help people like me and others to learn and adjust our daily activities.

    Looking forward to read more on “sitting is the new smoking.”

    Thank you!

  17. Sandy Gross says:

    Hi Diane, I loved how you went through the history of modern fitness and highlighted how the updates to the guidelines fall behind. Very helpful to see it all put into this perspective. I’m so thrilled I discovered Jill and the YTU method. Look forward to the follow up from you: “…science is actually baked into the secret sauce of Yoga Tune Up®.”

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