A study released last year concluded that for every hour of TV you watch, your life span is shortened by 22 minutes. This study concluded that the average person spends just over 35 hours per week watching TV, meaning that we lose almost 5 years of our life due our time in front of the TV. Compare that to another study that showed that for every cigarette smoked, a person’s life span is shortened by 11 minutes. It is studies like these that have led researchers to conclude that the amount of time we stay seated is slowly killing us, some even go as far to call sitting the “new smoking.”
Of course, we spend much more time sitting than just in front of the TV. Most Americans spend a large part of their work day sitting behind a desk. And in order to get to work, we spend 30 minutes to an hour sitting in our car during the commute. Unfortunately, combining all of these results in the average American spending the vast majority of their day seated. The more time spent seated has been connected with increased rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as lower back pain. So, if you are like most Americans and spend a lot of time seated, here are some simple tips to not only keep you out of pain, but also possibly keep you living longer.
First and foremost, get up and move around. While at work, I encourage patients to take frequent “micro breaks.” These breaks usually last about a minute in length and are recommended every 30 minutes to an hour. During these breaks you should stand up, perform some light stretches, and walk around a bit before returning to work. When you are seated for extended periods, your joints lock up and muscles become tight, these micro breaks keep your muscles loose and joints moving. Another option that may be open to you at work is to request a desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing.
If you are someone who spends your work day sitting behind your desk, what you do when you’re at home becomes extremely important. Regular exercise is a must. Moderate aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week is recommended to help decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Brisk walking, running, biking and swimming are all good forms of aerobic exercise. Lifting weights has also been shown to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease by 25% . Finally, make sure that you keep your hamstrings and hip flexors (your glutes) stretched out. I recommend these stretches be performed three times a day for my patients suffering from lower back pain. When seated for long periods, these two muscle groups become tight, which is seen in almost every patient who comes into my office with low back pain.
So, remember to frequently get up from your seat at work, exercise regularly, and cut down on the amount of TV you watch. Not only will it keep you out of pain, it will also extend your life.