In today’s world, it’s hard to avoid sitting down for much of the day. But it’s also hard to avoid hearing about and dealing with the risks of spending so much time on our rear. And the danger is real; sedentary behavior can result in an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as chronic back issues including weakening bones, muscle degeneration, decreased mobility, and issues like herniated discs.
“Back pain sends more patients to doctors than any condition other than the common cold. It’s the fifth most common reason for hospitalizations and the third most common cause of surgery,” said Prevention. “Did you know that sitting puts 40% more pressure on your spine than standing?”
Despite the inherent risks, sitting is a way of life for most Americans, with many hours spent at the desk sandwiched between daily commute time, and then some.
“Today, the average office worker sits for about 10 hours, first all those hours in front of the computer, plowing through e-mails, making calls or writing proposals — and eating lunch,” said the Washington Post. “And then all those hours of sitting in front of the TV or surfing the Web at home.”
How much is too much sitting?
Researchers commissioned by Public Health England reached a consensus that can help inform change when it comes to the amount of time we spend seated every day. Their recommendation: “stand, move and take breaks for at least two out of eight hours at work. Then, gradually work up to spending at least half of your eight-hour workday in what researchers call these ‘light-intensity activities,’” said the Washington Post.
In another study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported on Harvard Women’s Health Watch, it was found that “women who were inactive for 11 or more hours a day fared the worst, facing a 12% increase in premature death, but even lesser amounts of inactive time can cause problems.”
How to break the cycle
Key to making critical changes that can help protect your health and keep chronic back pain away is understanding the importance of those changes. Then, if a large alteration to your lifestyle isn’t feasible or reasonable, start small by getting up to stretch or take a short walk several times a day. A bonus: Reaching the minimum-recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise may be easier if it’s broken up into short spurts.
“On a jam-packed day, regular stretching breaks may not seem like a wise way to spend your time,” said Prevention. “But skipping these habits may cause your back to suffer. That’s because back muscles will weaken if you don’t use them; inactive joints lose lubrication and age more quickly.”
A standing desk or treadmill desk may also be an answer for you; check with your employer to see if this is an option.
Treating chronic back pain
If you’re among the huge percentage of people who are already suffering from back pain, there are steps you can take. Today’s minimally invasive surgical techniques can mean outpatient treatments instead of a long hospital stay, in addition to small incisions and quicker recovery time.