sitting isnt bad for you

Sorry, Sitting Isn’t Really Bad for You

Over the last several years, the health concerns surrounding sitting have really been highlighted by the health and fitness crowds, as well as the mainstream media.  In fact, there have been entire books published on this topic.  I’ve seen articles with titles such as “Sitting is Evil,” “Sitting is the New Smoking,” and even “Sitting will kill you.”

Wow, those seem pretty aggressive.  We’ve been sitting since the beginning of time!  I’m going to really shock the world with this comment…

Sorry, sitting isn’t really bad for you.

Yup.  There is nothing wrong with sitting.  I’m actually doing it right now as I write this article.  You probably are too.  Don’t get me wrong, sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, but let’s get one thing straight:

It’s not sitting that is evil, it’s NEVER moving that is evil. [Click to Tweet]

By putting all the blame on sitting, we lose focus on the real issue, which is lack of exercise.  So we see a shift in people switching to standing desks at work, still not exercising, but thinking that they are now making healthy choices.  

This is so backwards it boggles my mind.

The body adapts amazingly well to the forces and stress that we apply to it throughout the day.  If you sit all day, your body will adapt.  Your body will lose mobility to areas like your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine.  Your core is essentially not needed while sitting so thinks it’s not needed anymore during other activities.  And several muscles groups get used less frequently while sitting and weaken over time, like your glutes, scapular retractors, and posterior rotator cuff.

Unfortunately, when all you do is sit all day, and you never reverse this posture or exercise, your body adapts to this stress to make you the most efficient sitter.  That’s right, you get really good at sitting.

For example, think about what happens to the core when you sit all day.  One of the functions of your core is to maintain good posture and essentially to keep the bones of your skeleton from crashing to the floor.  The core is engaged at a low level of EMG activity throughout the day for postural needs.  

The problem with sitting is that the chair also serves this function, so your core isn’t needed to keep you upright, the chair serves this function. If sitting is all you do, then when you stand up, your core essentially isn’t used to providing this postural support so you rock back onto your static stabilizers by doing things like standing with a large anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension.  

sitting isnt bad for you

Unfortunately, this becomes the path of least resistance, and most energy efficient, for your body.  Your core gets used to relying on the chair to function, then when you need it, gets lazy.

It’s OK to sit all day, as long as you are reversing this posture at some point.  This can be as specific as exercises designed to combat sitting and as general as simply taking a walk in the evening.

 

3 Strategies to Combat Sitting All Day

I want to share the 3 things that I often discuss with my patients and clients.  You can apply these yourself or use them to discuss with your clients as well.  But if you sit all day, you really should:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

But the real first step is to stop blaming sitting and calling a spade a spade.  It’s lack of movement and exercise that is the real concern, not sitting.

 

Move, Often

The first step to combatting sitting all day is to move around often.  The body needs movement variability or it will simply adapt to what it does all day.  

I get it, we all work long days, and sitting is often required in many of our jobs.  But the easiest way to minimize the effects of sitting all day is to figure out ways to get up and move throughout the day.

This doesn’t need to be 10 minutes of exercise, it could simply be things like getting up to fill up a water bottle or taking quick 2 minute walk around the office.  When I am not in the clinic or gym, I personally tend to work in hour long chunks, so I will get up and walk around in between chunks to get a glass of water, snack, or use the bathroom.  

This works well for me, but you need to find what works for you.  I know of others that use things like Pomodoro timers, or even some of the fitness tracking devices, which can remind you to stand up and move around at set times.

 

Reverse Your Posture

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years.  The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful.  These will depend on each person but a basic set of exercises may look like:

Chin Tucks

Shoulder W’s

Thoracic Extension Exercises

View one of my past articles for several more great thoracic mobility drills.

Bridging Exercises

True Hip Flexor Stretch

Perform each of these for 10 reps.  These should take 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.  

I also often tell people to perform the prone press up exercise, cobra yoga poses, or to simply lay on their stomach in the evening while reading or watching TV.  

fig 1 - sitting isnt bad for you

 

Exercise

Remember going back to some of the past concepts above, the body adapts to the stress applied.  To combat this perfectly, a detailed exercise program that is designed specifically for you and comprehensively includes a focus on total body and core control is ideal.  

This will assure that the muscle groups that are not being used while sitting all day get the strength and mobility they need, while the core gets trained to stabilize the trunk during functional movements.

If you want to get the most out of your body and stay optimized, you need to do things like work on your hip and thoracic spine mobility, strengthen your rotator cuff, groove your hinge pattern, and learn how to deadlift and work your glutes.

 

Sitting Isn’t Bad For You, Not Moving Is

As a profession, we need to get away from blaming sitting as the enemy and labeling it evil.  Our society is sitting more and more each generation.  We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that sitting isn’t the problem, it’s not moving enough that is the concern.  We need to stop pointing fingers and get to the root of the problem.  

Go ahead and sit, just move more often and use these 3 strategies to combat sitting all day.

 

 

 

11 replies
  1. Tom Rodrigues
    Tom Rodrigues says:

    A bit confused here Mike, while I agree that not moving is the root issue not necessarily “sitting”; isn’t that essentially saying the same thing? If someone is sitting all day they are not moving. While holding any static posture for long periods of time is probably the more accurate description of the problem, if someone uses a standing desk and now is utilizing their core muscles throughout the day, not in a constant flexed pattern etc..wouldn’t they have less to undo?

    This isn’t only an office issue, people sit while driving, while watching TV, while eating, so by encouraging less sitting in the workplace is this something that should be discouraged? I know this article would have received less attention had the message been “too much sitting is bad for you but here is how you can undo it” But to those who maybe didn’t read this whole article through and just read the title in their inbox you may have indirectly encouraged more of a unhealthy posture.

    But overall I do agree with most of the message, disagree a bit on the delivery, and am grateful for the awesome drills. Thank you sir.

    • mikereinold
      mikereinold says:

      I think we shouldn’t assume that using a standing desk causes you to use your core muscles all day. I would guess that most people still don’t because they never move and their core doesn’t know what to do. So they stand (which may lead to other issues…) but never move or exercise. Standing isn’t moving. Getting a standing desk is like drinking Diet Coke, not addressing the real concern. I would never discourage less sitting, I think that is clear in the article, but sitting isn’t the problem, it’s never moving. I think telling people sitting is evil is the wrong delivery, that doesnt get to the root of the problem and address the real issue.

  2. Jena Fraser Rmt
    Jena Fraser Rmt says:

    Im trying to get a hold of someone who is responsible for Mike’s OnlineKneeSeminar.com as the website comes up blank. Im in the middle of the course – and am on a tight timeline to finish – and there is no code on the site. Please contact me with updates on what you are doing to address this issue.

    • mikereinold
      mikereinold says:

      Hi Jena, sorry this definitely isn’t the best place for this sorry for the delay, if you get this reply we did have some website issues but all should be good now

  3. Dan Somers
    Dan Somers says:

    If you have tight hip flexors and hamstrings, wouldn’t they pull you into a posterior pelvic tilt and a flexion moment at L5/S1? The excessive lordosis would be due to a sway back and you would be relying on stability from your inguinal ligaments. This is why prone extension exercises could help.

      • Art Ngo
        Art Ngo says:

        Is it because the primary tight hip flexor at play is the iliopsoas pulling the lumbar spine into greater extension, thus tilting the pelvis more anterior?

  4. basis
    basis says:

    I’m having trouble understanding this series of assertions. Which journal papers do you suggest that I read to understand the basis for these claims?

  5. Fernando Espinosa Jenkins
    Fernando Espinosa Jenkins says:

    I worked alongside a PT who said, “The best posture is your next posture!” It’s important to change your posture up throughout the day.

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