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Try these 7 Ways to Improve your Lifestyle and Avoid Sitting Disease

Wherever you go, go with all your heart - Confucius

Do you suffer from back ache, shoulder pain or unexplained stiffness and soreness in your joints? If so, you may be experiencing some of the symptoms of the recently identified syndrome, ‘sitting disease.’

This emerging phenomena has been highlighted by studies (reference 1), which concluded that sitting down for too long can be as dangerous as smoking, and significantly increases the risk of type II diabetes, kidney disease, muscle, joint and back pain.

According to a statement by the World Health Organisation, inactivity is the fourth biggest killer of adults.

Now, Leicester University in the UK has conducted a meta analysis of 18 studies incorporating 800,000 people. They conclude that ‘sitting disease’ is a real and growing problem.

Researchers found that extended sedentary periods change muscle enzymes which can raise blood sugar levels and, the troubling news is that, even regular workouts at the gym do not counteract the dangers.

Dr Ann Hoskins, Deputy Director for Health and Wellbeing, Healthy People, Public Health England said:

‘This research supports the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations to minimise how much we sit still. Being active is good for your physical and mental health. Simple behaviour changes to break up long periods of sitting can make a huge difference.’

 Move it or lose it

There is no doubt, our bodies are designed for movement, with spines comprised of 26 mobile blocks of bone which, like our knees, hips, ankles and feet, are all designed to rotate, bend and extend.

Lack of frequent and regular movement leads to stiffness, soreness and weakness. But, many of us in the UK can spend up to 70% of our days sitting down, whether driving a car, sitting at a desk, a computer or slouching in front of a TV.

And the rising trend of working from home simply compounds the problem. Many people do not leave their homes for days on end.

Sitting disease is another example of how modern living is taking us further and further away from the kind of natural lifestyle enjoyed by our ancestors which supported both physical and mental health.

The threat to our physical and emotional health

Being indoors for extended periods has real implications for our mood and emotional well-being too, due to the little known connection between light and the feel-good brain hormone, serotonin.

Full spectrum light travels through the retina of the human eye and is transferred directly onto the brain where it has an immediate effect on our serotonin level. Indoors, we receive up to 100 units of light, or lux, per hour.

Outdoors, on an overcast day, we receive up to 10,000 units and, at midday in full sun, we can receive a staggering 100,000 units, which is a key explanation for seasonal affective disorder when people in temperate climates, complain of low mood and reduced energy during the cold and dark winter months.

Professor Russell Foster (reference 2), an expert on circadian rhythms at Imperial College, London, gives this warning in his book The Rhythms of life:

‘With low levels of light, it is not possible for the body to properly adjust the circadian body clock, and sleep patterns become disturbed leading to a range of ill health problems ranging from mild to severe.

Night shift workers may suffer from sleep disorders, poor vigilance, an increased chance of accidents, gastro-intestinal disease, an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, and there is some evidence of a link with early onset diabetes.

With our shifting work patterns and changing lifestyles, it’s clear we all need to take responsibility and be personally proactive to protect both for our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Use these tips to support your physical and emotional health

  1. Avoid sitting down for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
  2. Raise your desk or workstation, so that you are standing, rather than sitting whilst at the computer.
  3. When standing, move around, fidget, shift your weight from foot to foot, to increase blood circulation
  4. Make sure you get active outdoors every day for at least 20 min to get the circulation moving and to benefit from the positive effects of full spectrum light on mind and body.
  5. Use your walk for breathing deeply, enjoying the outdoor environment and re-energising. This will increase the blood supply to all internal organs, including the brain, which will help with general fitness, concentration and efficiency.
  6. If you are able to, arrange for regular massages to loosen tension in aching muscles and joints and for deep relaxation.
  7. Get a pedometer or app to monitor your movement. Remember, your body is designed for a natural lifestyle of outdoor activity. Aim at taking at least 10,000 steps a day.

1. Studies: Buckley J P, Hedge A, Yates T, et al. The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company. The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online June 1 2015

2. Professor Russell Foster:  The Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks That Control the Daily Lives of Every Living thing Hardcover- 26 Feb. 2004 Leon Kreitzman, Russell Foster, Lewis Wolpert Profile Books , London.

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.