As many of us settle in to work remotely from home, confined to the house because of the coronavirus pandemic. We are moving less than we use to only 1-2 months ago. Our step counts are down, instead Netflix and social media are getting a workout replacing our own gym workouts, and generally, we are sitting more – a lot more.
Sitting for extended periods of time has its problems. Sitting for more than 60% of your waking hours has increased risk of chronic diseases and poor health outcomes.
The issues are 2-fold.
Firstly, there is the problem of sedentary behaviour – muscles not moving, sluggish blood flow throughout the body because of lack of movement and poor muscle activation. As a result, you can experience increased risk of blood glucose levels and increased risk of the onset of chronic diseases.
Secondly, sitting for long periods of time changes the biomechanics of the lumbar spine with reduced lumbar lordosis of the lower back, shortened hamstrings, and overstretched and weakened muscles around the lumbopelvic region. Importantly, prolonged periods of sitting exert excessive and prolonged pressure through the lumbar discs.
All this will lead to a much greater risk of lower back pain, a risk that increases as the pandemic goes on. The pain can present in several ways – either as an aching type of pain on one side of the back, or centrally or sharp grabbing pains as you move and bend. Sometimes the pain can spread to the buttock and down the back of the leg. Usually it comes on after you have been sitting for a while at the computer or in front of the TV.
What can be done to prevent this from occurring, or what can you do to help if it already exists? Essentially, the answers involve sitting less and moving more. Here are a few things you can do to help:
- Know how long you sit each day. Estimate how many of your waking hours involve sitting. This involves sitting at the computer, in front of the TV, having a meal, driving the car, sitting with coffee during a work break. If you can identify the problem – it will give you a goal to work towards.
- Look at innovative ways to decrease your sitting time and change your sitting behaviours. Get up every 30 minutes when at the computer – walk around the room or run on the spot for 20 seconds – do whatever it takes to change something.
- Have a good ergonomic workstation set up. Sitting in an upright position will decrease the pressure through the lumbar discs as much as threefold from a slumped sitting posture.
- Invest in a sit stand desk to provide greater opportunity to change your position – stand up and move around. Alternatively – set up a standing workstation you could move to if you need standing work time. Put the laptop on a box and attach a keyboard for typing.
- Build exercise into your daily routine. The exercise should ideally focus on core strength and stability, along with an aerobic component. This may involve 10 minutes of a strengthening program such as squats, bridges and push ups, complemented with a daily brisk walk or run. The idea is to start small and build on it.
These are just a few things you can do to help you be more comfortable as we settle into new ways of working and managing our health during the coronavirus pandemic.