If you're like most Americans, you spend a large amount of each day in a seated position where your hips are bent to close to 90 degrees and your knees around 90 degrees of a bend, as well. In fact, the one thing we have in common with most Americans no matter what part of the country we are from is the amount of time we all spend sitting. And you may have heard the phrase "sitting is the new smoking", meaning it's something that seems ok to us right now, but years later we may find that sitting, or rather the amount of time we spend being sedentary, as well as the amount of time we spend in one position, is detrimental to our health. Some food for thought.
In an ideal world, we would have access to movement whenever we needed or wanted it. But in our culture and society, we have created rules around movement. For example, think of children in school. The one thing they do more than any other during their 13 years of schooling is sit. Those who have difficulty sitting are labeled ADHD, the trouble child, inattentive, and so on. When we look at our biology, there are so many reasons that children can't sit still and really, shouldn't sit still. We have actual biological requirements for movement that keeps our cells healthy. One of these requirements for cellular movement is called mechanotransduction and it refers to the mechanical forces enacted on cells. When the correct forces in the correct amounts and in the correct directions are present, cellular function and reproduction is healthy. When these forces are absent or in the wrong amounts, cellular health and reproduction may suffer and we see disorders like osteopenia and osteoporosis, for example, develop. It is the forces enacted on the body that help it grow and develop into a healthy adult. If we lack movement or a variety of movement when we are young, we may be limiting the potential of robustness in adulthood. Bone density reaches a peak in our early 20's. If we haven't loaded our bones with forces that have made them strong, we have less bone available to us as we age when we may need to rely on the minerals our bones provide if we become ill and unable to eat for a period of time.
In addition, children actually require movement to learn. Have you ever seen young animals grow into adults? What do the young ones do if they aren't eating and sleeping? They are playing. Playing and movement help young animals develop the skills they require to survive in adulthood. Today's children don't need to know how to hunt and gather to survive, but play and movement are still vital to normal development of the body and the brain. Play turns on areas of the brain that help make new neural connections with fewer repetitions required to retain that new skill or knowledge than just rote memorization. And this isn't true for only children; adults learn better when play is a part of learning and when they are a part of a group.
Back to sitting. It isn't that sitting is inherently bad for us. What becomes "bad", or rather, unhealthy, is the amount of time we spend doing it. Sit for meals, sit to commute, sit at work, sit at the kids' game, sit to watch tv. It's a lot of sitting. And as much as "they" would like to tell you that exercise is the antidote to sitting, it actually isn't. Exercise, while not bad for you, doesn't make up for all the hours spent in a seated position. Even the exercise we do ends up looking a lot like the same position we are trying to counteract, but just moving: running, cycling, elliptical all rely on a lot hip flexion and knee flexion, the same mechanical positions we are in when sitting. And even an hour a day of moving during exercise isn't enough to counteract the amount of time most of us spend sitting.
What is the antidote to sitting is twofold. One is to move more throughout your day. Not exercise more, but move more of you more often. Yes, that can mean taking the stairs or parking farther away in the parking lot. It also means learning how to do torsional rib breathing, and walking barefoot in the grass, and sitting on the floor instead of in the recliner, and sometimes squatting and sometimes bending over to get things off the floor. It means actively and passively moving all of our joints through their full ranges of motion at least daily through normal human movement patterns involved in carrying out our every day activities. This was a whole lot easier when we didn't live in houses and drive cars and have grocery stores. Our modern conveniences make life easier, but not necessarily healthier for us. Look for more on this topic in the future.
The second antidote to sitting is paying attention to HOW you sit. If you're sitting reading this, look at how you are sitting. Is your body C-shaped? Are you sitting in a soft comfy chair? Is your tailbone curled under you? Are your shoulders rounded forward? Likely you resemble this position to a certain degree. And remember, this position is fine; it's just that we don't want to spend all day here.
When we look at a healthier sitting position, there are certain bony markers we can use to help us find these healthier positions. Stand up. Now reach up on your backside to where the top of your thigh meets your bum and push in and up deep. You should feel a bony protuberance. This is your ischial tuberosity and you have one on each side. It's where your hamstring muscles attach to your pelvis. Looking at a skeletal figure of the pelvis, we notice that the ischial tuberosities are quite dense. This density comes from the amount of pull the muscles attached here provide; muscle pulling on bone stimulates bone growth.
Once you've found these bones, you're going to use them to help you find a healthier sitting position. I find sitting on a hard chair the easiest place to start to find this positioning. So, find that hard chair and keeping those ischial tuberosities, or sit bones, in mind, sit down so that you can feel those bones underneath you. You may have to rock your pelvis forward or back to feel them. In fact, go ahead and do just that: rock your pelvis back so that you're sitting on your sacrum and tailbone, then rock it forward. Notice as you rock back and forth that you will feel the sit bones come into more and less contact with the chair. Once you have a feeling for where the sit bones are, you can begin to spend your seated time in this healthier position. And then, begin to move in and out of a seated position more and more frequently throughout your day by standing up, walking, and generally just moving more. I'm attaching a link to a video that one of my mentors, Katy Bowman, has made to help you visualize this positioning. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRtKFUCAwd4
One of my favorite things to do is to help people find more movement in their body. In addition to the obvious physical benefits more movement has, there are also benefits to our nervous system and nervous system regulation and therefore mental and emotional health. One of our nervous system's jobs is to know where all parts of it are. If it is to keep the organism alive and safe, it's imperative that all parts be accounted for! When we have movement poor diets, our nervous system doesn't have a complete picture of the whole organism. It knows there are parts there, but those parts aren't being used. Is it because there is something wrong with the part? Maybe it doesn't work any more? Or maybe it doesn't actually even exist any longer? Maybe it's no longer attached or just partially attached? Non-movement becomes a source of additional stress on the nervous system that can push an already overwhelmed nervous system into more overwhelm and contribute to things like anxiety, depression, fear, and somatic complaints including pain, GI distress, headaches, etc. Moving more of you more often has health benefits for all areas of our lives, not just your joints and muscles.
If you're as fascinated by all of this as I am, let me know!