A major manufacturer of workstations reports that 86% of work computer users have to sit all day, and when they do rise from sitting, more than half (56%) use food as the excuse to get up and move. In addition to sitting at work, for meals, and commuting to/from work, 36% sit another one to two hours watching TV, 10% sit one to two hours for gaming, 25% sit one to two hours for reading/lounging, and 29% use their home computer for one to two hours. In summary, the average American sits for thirteen hours a day and sleep for eight hours. That's a total of 21 hours a day off their feet!
The manufacturer's survey also notes 93% of work computer users don’t know what “Sitting Disease” is but 74% believe that sitting too much can lead to an early death. “Sitting Disease” represents the ill-effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle and includes conditions like “metabolic syndrome” (obesity and diabetes), which is rapidly becoming more prevalent, especially in the young – even in adolescence and teenagers! Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy encouraging employers, employees, and others to sit less citing the many risks associated with sitting including (but not limited to): diabetes, cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Standing is SO MUCH BETTER as it burns more calories than sitting, tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow, reduces blood sugar, and improves metabolism. Standing is frequently overlooked as “an exercise” and it’s both simple and easy to do!
So, what about the low back and sitting? You guessed it – sitting is hard on the back! The pressure inside of our disks, those “shock absorbers” that lie between each vertebra in our spine (22 disks in total) is higher when we sit compared with simply standing or lying down. It's estimated that when we lay down, the pressure on our disks is the lowest at 25mm. When lying on one side, it increases to 75mm, standing increases disk pressure to 100mm, and bending over from standing pushes disk pressure to 220mm. When we sit with good posture, our disk pressure may reach 140mm but that can increase to 190mm with poor posture. To help relieve the pressure on our disks, experts recommend: 1) Getting up periodically and standing; 2) Sitting back in your chair and avoiding slouched positions; 3) Placing a lumbar roll (about the size of your forearm) behind the low back and chair/car seat; and 4) Changing your position frequently when sitting.
Because certain low back conditions “favor” one position over another, these “rules” may need modification. For example, most herniated disk patients prefer low back extension while bending over or slouching hurts. In those with lumbar sprain/strains, bending forwards usually feels good and extension hurts. Modifying your position to the one that is most comfortable is perhaps the best advice.