With long commutes to and from the office and 8-hour work days spent sitting in front of the computer, by the time we finally make it home, finding the time (or energy) to hit the gym can be difficult – especially when the couch looks so inviting. In today’s digital age, sedentary lifestyles are becoming increasingly more prominent, and are also the cause of some long-term health implications.
Physical Therapist at AIM Physical Therapy’s DuPont location, Laura Rosado, MSPT, says prolonged periods of sitting can cause everything from postural stress and muscle weakness to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression and other chronic diseases. With so many negative side effects resulting from sedentary lifestyles, Rosado says it’s critical to maximize your activity outside of work. However, with busy schedules, this can of course be difficult. If making time for exercise poses as a challenge, there are some simple activities you can incorporate into your workday that will help promote good health – and all without breaking too much of a sweat.
“For people working at a desk all day, I recommend a series of stretches that focus on the muscles that get tight when sitting at a computer,” says Rosado. “Stretching the shoulders, upper back, hip flexors, and hamstrings as often as possible will help alleviate the stress from sitting all day.”
Rosado also suggests getting up to stretch or walk briefly once per hour – if your job allows it. “This will go a long way toward preventing chronic strain and impairment,” she explains. If finding time for the gym is a challenge, Rosado recommends getting your heart rate up at the workplace by walking or climbing stairs during your break or lunch hour. And, incorporating a quick 10-15 minutes session of high intensity interval training (HIIT) before or after work is a quick way to help boost your metabolism.
But, combating the negative side effects of a desk-bound day comes in more forms than just one. In addition to incorporating movement into your daily life, Rosado says workspace design is very important. “Having a sit-to-stand desk is a great option if available,” says Rosado. “If not, you want to make sure that your chair is the proper height – hips and knees at 90 degrees – and the computer is positioned properly so your neck and back are not strained.”
Rosado says if your job requires you to sit for prolonged periods of time, it’s imperative that your body is as “neutral” as possible. “This means a relatively straight spine, legs uncrossed, and feet resting flat on the floor,” says Rosado.
Finally, Rosado says it’s important to monitor your caloric intake. “You can’t take in more calories than you expend, whether you’re sedentary or highly active.” Rosado says, “Cutting empty calories like sugar and processed foods will help to fuel your body properly so that you still have energy for exercise at the end of the day.” Rosado recommends eating whole foods and preparing your meals ahead of time so that you’re not tempted to make a fast food run during the workweek.
Jeremiah Shelton, MSPT, is a physical therapist and owner at AIM Physical Therapy. Like Rosado, Shelton says movement is integral to good health. “As a physical therapist I have been involved in assessing, adapting, retraining, modifying, and improving movement of clients for 13 years,” says Shelton. “During this time, I have truly come to appreciate what the human body can do, what it is made to do, and what it should do. Think about it. Our bodies are composed of joints, muscles, and tendons throughout. These components are not meant to remain static. They are specifically designed for movement.”
The benefits of movement are many, and for people leading sedentary lives, movement is crucial to their health. Shelton says, “Regardless of age, gender, or physical ability, there are many benefits to staying active and exercising.” These benefits include:
- Reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Control health conditions – such as those listed above – if they are already an issue.
- Manage weight.
- Help improve ability to perform activities that are important to you.
- Improve your mood and decrease anxiety and/or depression.
- Promote better sleep.
- Strengthen your heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and maintain healthy joints.
- Lower the risk of certain cancers such as colon and breast cancer.
- Exercise can be fun!
Whether you’re already experiencing pain from prolonged sitting or want to stop chronic pain before it starts, Rosado recommends starting slow. “When making healthy changes in your life, research shows that people are more successful when focusing on changing one thing at a time.” Rosado recommends changing eating habits first, and implementing more exercise into your daily routine second.
Of course, if you need support in making a healthy lifestyle change, AIM Physical Therapy is here to help. With three locations in Tacoma, Puyallup, and DuPont, an AIM Physical Therapy center is well within reach. For more information or to make an appointment with a physical therapist, visit AIM’s website.