Is sitting the new smoking?

May 30th, 2018

I think we can all agree that sitting is pretty comfortable.  When you sit you use a lot less energy than when you stand or walk.  We’ve all been sitting our whole lives.  Chances are you are sitting right now when you read this.  I read everywhere that “sitting is the new smoking”. Research has linked sitting for prolonged periods with a number of health concerns, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and even anxiety and depression. So yes…in our modern world it appears that sitting IS the new smoking!

But is sitting really the problem? Or just in-activity? An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.  It would seem that more moving contributes to better health. As a physical therapist, I have seen and worked with many patients who have problems from too much sitting.

And consider this: No matter how comfortable you are while seated, prolonged static posture is not good for your spine. You will lose mobility in your hamstrings, hip flexors, and mid-back. You will lose the ability to engage your core, as the chair is doing the work for you and you don’t have to use your core.

How can you combat this?

1.      Keep moving – get up often every 30 minutes. File something or get a drink.  Set a timer on your phone to remind you to stand or just stand while talking on the phone. If you have an Apple watch or other fitness device, you can set it up to remind you to move each hour. You will get a gentle tap with a message to move around.

2.     Get a standing adjustable desk. You’ve probably seen commercials for these types of desks. If they are out of your budget, you can also re-think a taller bureau or other piece of furniture and use that as a standing desk.

3.     Incorporate a few exercises into your day to combat the effects of sitting on your low back.

If you sit all day you are likely going to have flexed posture at your shoulders, tight hips and weak gluts.  To counter this, try these exercises throughout the day. 

Foam Roll Thoracic Extension

Purpose: Counter flexed posture at the shoulders

Plan: Lie on top of foam roll with it perpendicular to your mid back. Tighten your core so the movement comes from your mid-back, not your low back. Lean shoulders backwards towards the floor. Move the foam roll up your back, leaning backwards at each segment to mobilize your thoracic spine into extension. 

Hip Flexor Stretch

Purpose: Improve mobility of the hip and pelvis

Plan: Get into a half kneeling position. Place your knee on a soft pillow or cushion as needed. Stay upright and gently tuck your hips forward until you feel a stretch on the front of your hip and thigh. Avoid arching your back. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the both sides.

Scapular Squeezes

Purpose: Facilitate your scapular muscles       

Plan: Sit or stand.  Draw your shoulder blades back and down. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat.


Purpose: Facilitate your glut muscles

Plan: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat.  Raise your hips off the floor and squeeze gluts. Avoid hyperextending at your back.Hold a few seconds. Repeat.

These exercises are really just the basics. You may need exercises more specific for you and your posture. We here at Motion Works Physical Therapy are available to help you and create a program specific to your unique needs. Visit our website or call 508-660-1110 to make an appointment.

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