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Learn how to ‘Sit Smarter’ and Avoid Major Health Risks

January 07, 2019 in Articles
Posted by Greg Morris


The popular phrase “Sitting is the New Smoking” has been used to describe how inactivity can lead to a myriad of health problems.  A 2011 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that prolonged sitting was associated with an increase risk of chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

...but what is the effect of prolonged sitting on your spinal health?

The typical American is sedentary for 21 hours of the day. In a historic study by Nachemson, he found that the highest disc pressures were found in sitting with a forward flexed position (see graph). 

What this demonstrates is that sitting forward in your chair all day can increase pressure on your spinal discs by 275 percent compared to standing. Long term effects of this pressure may lead to degenerative changes in spinal discs, numbness, pain and weakness in the muscles of your back and legs. This may partially explain why 8 out 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some time in their lives, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

two easy ways to sit smarter
1. add variety to your work day.  

It’s important to understand exactly how often you sit through the day.  For every 45 to 60 minutes of sitting, try to get about 10 minutes of standing in.  Take a break for fitness or walk around the building during your breaks. Think of everyday tasks; stand while eating your lunch, practice one leg balance activities when on a conference call, promote fitness by parking your car further away.  

2. Assess your workplace ergonomics.  

When you are sitting, think of an ergonomic posture: keyboard and mouse closer to the body, neck and shoulders back, maintain proper lumbar curvature with lumbar cushion (if needed), make sure your hips are above your knees, feet on the floor or a foot stool. When in doubt seek an ergonomic assessment of your work station by the Physical Therapists at Virginia Therapy and Fitness Center (VTFC). 

If prolonged sitting already causes you back pain or numbness and you feel that you have lost strength in your legs and glutes or have lost flexibility in your hamstrings and hip flexors, schedule a biomechanical assessment from one of our licensed Physical Therapists at VTFC. We can evaluate, refer and design a comprehensive individualized program that will offset the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting and promote wellness to help prevent possible future problems.

Schedule today!



about the author

Greg Morris

Physical Therapist