You've probably heard this one before: "Sitting is the new smoking", "sitting is the new cancer".
Plenty of newspapers, health magazines and TV shows have rambled on about it for years, and although it may not just be as dangerous as a life-threatening disease or puffing away that tobacco, you can't get around the fact that our sedentary lifestyles are definitively becoming a problem.
It wasn't always like this. For thousands of years humans have been spending much of their time standing up. With technological advancement, however, especially in recent decades, machinery and smart technology have started chipping away at physical activity, often taking over hard-muscle tasks our ancestors had to take care of themselves.
When we stand up straight, our heart and cardiovascular system works more effectively, the digestion process becomes more efficient, and endurance and energy levels both improve. For your spine and back, standing up relieves the pressure off the muscles, avoiding compression of the spinal discs. Plus, sitting around weakens your bum and leg muscles, which are responsible for stabilising the whole body.
According to Just Stand, an organisation raising awareness around excessive sitting and sedentary lifestyles, the average person spends 12 hours a day slouching in the office chair, in front of the computer, driving a car or couch potatoing (sic) in the evenings. Another 7 hours are spent sleeping, meaning that we only spend 5 hours (if we're lucky) on our feet. That's quite a disastrous figure. In fact, some researchers argue that sitting decreases life expectancy, and that only 30 minutes of additional exercise can combat this. Australian researchers found that people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40% increased risk of death.
Now before you think I'm some sort of health and fitness guru that watches Netflix stood up, forget about it.* As a touring musician and freelance journalist, I spend countless hours in cars and trains to such an extent that I will most definitely top the daily sitting average. A quick self-check and I arrive at that conclusion: 30 minutes eating breakfast, 30 minutes in the car to work, between 6-8 hours at the desk depending on my work day, followed by another ride home (one hour if traffic is bad), an hour for dinner and two hours for a movie on the couch. Another hour if I am taking public transport and need to sit around at the bus stop. Add up the maths: 14 hours.
*Although I did attempt this once, but then my partner threatened to leave me.
Research is pointing out that at least 60–75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity is required per day to combat excessive sitting. I can already notice the difference in my back and neck, which before often felt tense and thus required regular massaging (not that I am complaining).
Employers are beginning to notice that sitting (and heavy lunches, but that for some other article) are tiring their employees. A study in the Journal of Public Health examined the difference in productivity between two groups of call center employees over a period of six months. Conclusion: those workers that could raise or lower their desk to stand or sit as desired were 46% more productive than those sitting at regular desks. That's a stunning figure.
So what can be done to improve the time spent on our feet? Or, if we have to sit down for whatever reason, how can we make sitting around more comfortable? Here are seven suggestions.
Buy yourself a back support cushion
After countless agitating back-and-forth trips in my sub-average automobile on the motorway I decided to invest in something that may at least make the sitting somewhat more pleasant. Not that I am encouraging product placement in opinion articles, but the cushion that I got myself gently pushed my lower back forward and prevented a painful curve in my spine from forming above my bottom.
Initially it felt a little weird, but once removed after a 2-hour ride my back sagged back into the seat. Only then did I notice the position I would regularly be sitting in - and oh my, was I shocked by how bad that position would have been.
Have a look around on the interwebs - you can already get yourself proper ones starting €25.
Get a standing table
With a couple of swivels (or push of a button if you have the cash) standing tables can be raised or lowered as desired. This is especially handy if you're short and very tall, as all heights are possible. After using one of these for a day I noticed my hand regularly and subconsciously drifting away under the table trying to grab a chair. My brain clearly wasn't used to it and wanted me to sit. At the end of the day, however, I felt fresher, more rested and active enough to hit the gym. This brings us to the next point.
Get up, stand up, stand up for your spine.
Exercising is a "killer" solution to preventing back pain and partly curing it if you already have it. Try and establish a daily fitness regime after work if your schedule allows for it. Actually, even if it doesn't, make time for it: you only have one back, so you better invest time into keeping it healthy. Let exercise be an important part of your day.
More and more people are affected by back pain, and physiotherapists will be able to support you in finding a stretching routine to keep your body strong and fresh.
Use phone calls and meetings to walk
See phone calls as an opportunity to get up and stretch your legs, or take a moment to walk around the block if you don't need pen and paper in hand to jot down notes. The fresh air will simultaneously do you well.
Standing meetings were once uncommon, but are proving to be effective get-together solutions. We've all seen those heads bob down on a colleague's chest as their fatigue (or simple disinterest for the job) kicked in before lunchtime. Raise a table, gather everyone around, open a window and spice up those meetings!
This seems like a no-brainer, but that's the problem with no-brainers: they are always true. Believe it or not, there are now even devices out there with sensors that notice whenever your posture is sagging. If you can't remind yourself to keep yourself straight, both in your chair and standing, these may definitely be worth looking into.
Get the right chair
If you're going to spend many hours each day in the same chair, it may be a good idea to invest in a decent one with good padding and back support.
Alternatively, if you're at a bar or in the canteen, try sitting on the front half of the bar stool and curve your spine back slightly so you're forming an s-shape. This will relieve some pressure off your lower back.
Stand on public transport
Luxembourg's bus drivers can be ruthless, so you'll have to judge for yourself. If you're low on energy for this, think of it this way: I'll get to work and sit down for the next eight hours, so why not treat my body with 30 minutes of quality posture?
Does your office have adjustable tables? How do you cope with sitting all day? Let us know in the comments or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Oudendijk is a an editor journalist at RTL Today, a full-time touring musician and passionate globetrotter.