What you need to know about sitting too much

Health professionals weigh in: What happens when you sit too much? How can you fix it?

Whether you’re sitting in your ambulance waiting for the call that will spring you into action or lounging around off duty, it’s important to pay attention to the amount of time spent in the seated position, as well as how you sit.  

Sitting for prolonged periods of time, with poor posture, has more negative effects on your health than you may think. Let’s leave it to the professionals to explain.

Meet the Doctors

Dr. Matt Tanneberg, DC, CSCS 

According to Dr. Tanneberg, “When you [sit] every day, something called ‘creep’ sets in – that is, long-term stretching of a muscle. When a muscle is stretched out too much, it doesn't want to be torn, and its response is to spasm and tense up so it can't be stretched any more. It's your body trying to guard and lock down that area.”

The Doctor’s Recommendations:

  • To keep from slouching, put a lumbar support or a small pillow behind the small of your lower back.
  • Try not to sit for longer than a half hour at a time. Set an alarm for every 20-30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, get up, stretch out, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, move around, etc.

Dr. Scott Schreiber, DC, DACRB, DCBCN, MS, LDN, Cert. MDT, CKTP, CNS

Dr. Schreiber explains to EMS1 that sitting “contributes to the obesity epidemic, weakens the abdominal muscles and gluteus muscles, causes tightness in the hip flexors and puts excessive strain on the neck and back. Hip flexor stretches are a must.” 

The Doctor’s Recommendations:

The psoas stretch:

  • Kneel on the floor with one knee, keeping the other knee at a right angle
  • Bend your spine toward the knee not on the floor 
  • Lean forward, opening up the hip flexor
  • Raise your arm above your head for a deeper stretch
  • Hold for 30 seconds


Meet the Yogis

Gretchen Lightfoot, RYT-500, Owner of Goorus Yoga Studio

Lightfoot says, “Try to squeeze in a bit of walking throughout your day. It’ll lighten your mood.”

The Yogi’s Recommendations:

The chair twist can help relieve lower back, neck and sciatica pain; wring out toxins; and aid with digestion.

  • Inhale, sitting up tall, feet flat on the floor 
  • Exhale, twist to the right 
  • Bring your left hand to the outside of your right leg 
  • Place your right hand on the left side of the chair back 
  • Allow your head to follow the twist of your spine and allow your eyes to gaze beyond the chair back 
  • Inhale, come back to center and repeat on the other side

 Yogi and Doctor, Debbi Murphy, Ph.D., ERYT, director of Shanti Yoga Studio

Murphy tells EMS1, “According to numerous sources, including the Mayo Clinic, sitting for long periods of time has been linked to many life-threatening health concerns. Some have gone so far as to say sitting is the new smoking. [Sitting can lead to] obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat and abnormal cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

The Yogi’s Recommendations:

Tree pose: Helps you strengthen your feet and leg muscles and your ability to balance (something we lose as we age).

  • Stand with both feet mounted on the ground and both arms at your sides
  • Shift your weight to one foot and bend the opposite knee
  • Reach down for the ankle of your bent leg and guide it up the inside of your standing leg
  • Rest your foot either below or above your knee (never directly on)
  • Try to rest your hands on your hips or press your palms together
  • Tip: Begin by holding on to the chair or desk. Soon you’ll find yourself strong enough to balance without support.

Side bends are a great chair exercise for the upper body. Simply pulling your navel toward your spine as you exhale tones the abdominal muscles.

  • Sit in a chair (or stand) with your back straight, knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Pull your stomach in toward your spine
  • Extend one arm over your head and lean to the opposite side
  • Straighten the other arm at your side
  • Inhale and return to an upright position
  • Complete 10 side bends each side

Meet the Trainer

Kelly Starrett, coach, physical therapist and author

Dr. Starrett has worked extensively with public safety personnel to deal with the inevitable results of sitting in compromised positions throughout work shifts. 

“I’ve seen [situations where people] are forced to sit in compromised positions for extended periods of time, then in 0-60, need to move into an active situation,” said Starrett. “Those sudden movements take a major toll on the body.” 

The Trainer’s Recommendations:

We could eliminate a large percentage of injuries if we did the couch stretch. This can be done on the floor if you are limber, or you can start using a couch or sofa for support as you increase your flexibility.

  • Start on your hands and knees at a table top position, or standing in front of the couch with the leg to be stretched resting on the seat 
  • The soles of your feet/foot should be against the wall or back of the couch
  • Place one knee behind you where the floor meets the wall (or the seat meets the sofa back), with your shin flat against the wall and your toes pointed up. 
  • Bring your opposite leg up to a near 90 degree angle to help keep your posture straight (make sure your spine feels comfortable)
  • Allow your hips to open 

Use a foam roller to massage sore/knotted muscles. The actual process of foam rolling is quite easy. Using a foam roller or other mobility device, you use your own body weight to put intense, direct pressure on “trigger points” to help the muscles release and return to normal.

  • Place the foam roller under your hips, leaning to the side you want to work on and propping yourself up on your elbow and feet.
  • Apply moderate pressure, using your own body weight, to roll slowly. Use less pressure if the process is too painful, and remember to go slowly and breathe. 
  • Roll for about 10 - 15 minutes a day to massage your soft tissue and help undo the stress in your body. 

“Just like you need to perform maintenance on your equipment for it to work properly, you need to perform maintenance on your body for it to work properly,” said Starrett. 

Try to incorporate some, or all, of these tips into your daily regimen for improved health. Are there any exercises you’ve tried that work for you? Let us know. Comment below or drop us a line on Facebook

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