You May Need to Stand and Read This
Updated: Apr 16
Human anatomy is designed to move, not sit for the majority of the day. In fact many evolutionary anthropologists believe for most of human history we walked on average 6-8 miles per day. The technological revolution brought us indoors and we happily sat down. The chair borne society was created. Many of us spend most of our waking hours in a seat. The average American sits for almost 9.5 hours daily! Sitting more than 3 hours per day will increase your risk for for all sorts of ailments including lower back and cervical pain (if you don’t already have it). An meta analysis of 5 large-scale studies of over 2 million people found that life expectancies of individuals who said they spent more than 3 hours a day sitting were 2 years less than people who spent less than 3 hours sitting.
Amazingly exercise does not inoculate you from the dangers of sitting, even if you are a workout fiend and train 5 days per week! Research shows active people, who happen to sit a lot (more than 3 hrs per day), are exposed to the same hazards as their non-active brethren.
However long duration static standing comes with a whole host of its own problems. Military studies have shown, standing at attention for long periods will “pool” blood in the lower body and may result in unconsciousness. The body craves gross-movements, which results in major muscle contractions, in order to pump blood and oxygen efficiently throughout your anatomy. Science has proven a habitual lack of physical activity will undoubtedly make you sick and probably depressed (or lowered level of life satisfaction).
One of the easiest ways to cause spinal herniation is through repeated back flexion. Crunching your lower back in a static curved position, its natural position when you sit in a chair, will ruin your lumbar (and cervical) discs overtime. It is no wonder most Americans (over 80%) will complain of ongoing lower back pain at least once in their lives. Just by being in a chair, whether you are slouched or upright, will impose low-grade compressive forces that eventually lead to pain. Much back pain is directly attributed to a long slow process of repeated and unbalanced postural stress.
What do you think the best ergonomically seated position is?
I love trick questions. There isn’t any perfect seat or seated position. The one thing most chairs have in common is their intrinsic ability to generate back pain. The healthiest thing to do when seated for long periods is to vary your position every 10 minutes; i.e sit cross legged, sit leaning back, sit with your feet up, sit up straight etc. And at least once per hour stand up, walk around for a couple of minutes and do a simple stretch up toward the sky. See below:
JUST THE TIPS:
There is no single best posture for sitting. A fluctuating seat position is the next best thing to standing.
Sitting is only half the pain problem. The act of getting up from a seat is fraught with injury potential. When you get up from a seat, pull your shoulder blades back and hinge forward from your hips to stand. Try to avoid leaning forward too much letting your upper body momentum lift you. Standing up correctly will take a considerable amount of shear force off your back.
Don’t sit so much! Be a mensch, give up your seat on the train/bus and stand. I shouldn’t have to say this but, while waiting for an elevator (or in one), don’t sit!
Raise your seat to bar-stool height so your hips are at a max of 135 degrees and not less than 90 degrees of flexion (knees are lower than your hips) – this prompts normal lumbar back extension.
Raise your computer screen so the top of the monitor is eye level. If a laptop is your primary access point, consider putting it up on a desk shelf.
If your chair has lots of settings, adjust the angles and/or parts at least 1x per month which prevent your joints from creeping forces the prolonged static position has on soft tissue and spinal material.
Use lumbar pillows on the bottom back of your chair to promote the natural S curve of your spine (this also prohibit too much lumbar flexion).
Here is a big bugaboo of mine: While at the gym, please don’t sit more. According to “Medicine Science in Sports Exercise” standing over sitting burns 53% more calories.
Think of ways to walk while you work.
Stand when you take a phone call….or better yet walk and talk.
Integrate standing workstations and/or treadmill desks at the office.
When possible do a walking meeting. You’ll get more oxygen to your brain and hopefully make better decisions.
Sit on a somewhat unstable chair like a Swiss ball or stool.
1- S. Mcgill. Lower Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. Human Kinetics, 2002.
2-.McGill SM, Brown S. “Creep Response of the Lumbar Spine to Prolonged Full Flexion”. Clinical Biomechanics 1992;7:43-46.
3- Pynt J, Higgs J, Mackey M. “Seeking the Optimal Posture of the Seated Lumbar Spine”. Physiotherapy Theory, Practice 2001;17:5-21.
4- Williams, M. Ms, BSc, Hawley, John A. MA, “A Comparison of the Effects of Two Sitting Postures on Back and Referred Pain”. Spine; Oct 1991 Vol. 16. Issue 10.
5- Bruce Etnyre, David Thomas, “Event Standardization of Sit-to-Stand Movements” Physical Therapy Journal, December 1, 2007 87:1651–1666.