I was delighted to be asked to write a series of articles for West Essex Life focusing on women's health and fitness. This month, I focus on how sitting too much is harming our bodies...
Our bodies were not designed to sit for prolonged periods. Working from home has become more common, sometimes mandated over the last two years, but regardless of age or occupation, most us are sitting too much, often in front of screens.
Staying fit, mobile and active is crucial for our bodies, as well as our minds.
Sitting reduces the mobility and strength in our bodies, creating stiffness, causing back pain and reducing our functional capacity. It unbalances our bodies, creates bad posture, increases our risk of injury and negatively affects our sense of well-being.
Physical activity decreases our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, mobility issues, back pain, depression and anxiety. What more reason do you need to get up!
Which muscles are affected?
As we sit on our glutes for hours on end they become sluggish and weak. Our glutes help to keep us upright, propel us forwards as we walk and run, support our backs as we lift and help us to stand on one leg. Weak glutes can lead to an unstable pelvis, tight hamstrings, poor balance and often sciatica (burning or shooting sensation in the back and/ or leg).
Weak glutes and the angle of our legs while sitting can tighten the hip flexors. The hip flexors main role it to flex our hips, bringing our legs and torso towards each other. These muscles are attached to our spines and have an important role in stabilising the spine and pelvis. Tight hip flexors can pull at the back and pelvis and create back problems, knee joint discomfort and an imbalance of muscle strength.
Curving the upper body forwards causes tightness and weakness in our backs and shoulders, especially the trapezius muscles. Our trapezius muscles help us to stand up straight, to tilt our heads and to shrug and steady our shoulders. The excessive curvature in our necks, upper and middle backs can trigger headaches, strain the lower back, compress the chest and restrict deep breathing.
It’s clear we need to move more but it’s not always easy to fit exercise into our day. Don’t despair, there are plenty of ways to sneak in movement during the course of the day. You don’t have to set time for a whole exercise routine but instead can pepper exercises and stretches throughout the day.
My favourite way to fit in exercise is by adding it into a daily routine or habit. I do my hamstring stretches while I brush my teeth, my calf stretches when I go up and down the stairs, my upper body mobilisation when I put on the kettle. Find something you do daily and add in a few exercise or stretches at the same time.
Need some motivation to move?
Here are a few exercises and stretches you can do at your desk:
Shoulder and neck stretches
Seated, hold underneath your chair on the left hand side. Draw left shoulder down and lean slightly to the right. Lean right ear to right shoulder and hold for 30 seconds then take nose towards right armpit and hold for a further 30 seconds. Repeat on other side.
Seated upright, upper arms glued to your trunk. Elbows at 90 degrees and palms facing upwards. Imagine you’re holding a tray out in front of you.
Draw down under your armpits to take shoulders away from ears. Take your forearms out to the side whilst keeping your upper arms still glued to your trunk. Return to start position and repeat.
Standing with one leg extended behind you. Bend at knee to bring heel towards the bottom then release down. Make sure bending knee is further behind straight leg knee. Repeat on other side.
Standing, take right leg out in front of you, heel on floor, foot flexed. Bend left knee and reach bottom backwards. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on other side.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Seated sideways on chair. Only one bottom cheek on the chair, take outside leg behind you, holding onto chair and lower outside hip a little to feel the stretch. Hold 30 seconds then repeat on other side.
For more inspiration
Take a few minutes away to make a cuppa and do some PilaTeas with me at my Sonia Noy Pilates YouTube page. The Pilates exercises are suitable for everyone.
We have one wonderful body that does so much for us. Let’s nurture and enhance it, keeping us feeling good, strong, positive and relaxed.