Sitting for Hours May Be Killing You Faster Than the Food You Eat (Part 1)
By Neil Kitzmiller, ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Alright, so maybe the food you are consuming is really what’s killing you, but that’s not always the case contrary to what society will have you believe. Yes, the general 80/20 rule (it’s 80% of what happens outside of the gym and 20% of what happens inside the gym) has relevancy as far as making progress goes, but most people are unaware of what that 80% consists of outside of eating and calories. There are hundreds of thousands of articles dealing with eating food, so for the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on an often not thought of portion of that 80%; your posture.
Let’s get something straight right now, there is no such thing as “bad posture,” rather there are postures that aren’t safe or postures that can cause issues in the long run. The only “bad posture” if there really is one is the posture that you’re in for long periods of time. Let’s look at one simple example of a compromised posture that most people can relate too; the rounded upper back with forward head posture. This posture misalignment does not happen suddenly (unless due to trauma or injury), but rather take time to develop, slowly hindering your movement patterns over time.
Having a rounded upper back, medically known as kyphosis, is a common posture misalignment in society today. Most jobs today, whether in the office or at the comfort of your own home, require hours upon hours of sitting in front of a computer to get your work done. You can try sitting on a stability ball to make your posture better, but it never really lasts. What’s more comfortable at that time; to be sitting completely upright with your shoulders back behind you, your thoracic spine in slight extension, and your cervical spine held neutral, or to be rounded at the upper back, your shoulders protracted away from each other, and your head hanging forward? Let’s all be honest, it’s the latter.
The same thing goes when you’re driving your car as well. Nobody sits straight up with a neutral spine and their hands at “10 and 2” on the wheel, at least not for very long. For the record, a neutral spine can be though of us the spinal alignment that only has the natural curvature that each section of the spine is supposed to have, within a range. According to Mark Reinke, if “the spine is maintained within that neutral zone, the structures in and around the spine are generally safe from injury (2017). Here’s an experiment. When you drive your car today, look at the first 10 cars you pass on the road, and let me know what they’re doing. I’ll take a wild guess, right now; one hand on the wheel, slouched over, and head facing down because they’re texting on their phone with the hand that isn’t on the wheel.
When you move out of a neutral spine for an extending period of time, some of your muscles will lengthen while their antagonist partner shortens. An easy example of this is your biceps and triceps. When you flex your bicep, the muscle shortens. However, on the opposite side of your arm, when you squeeze your bicep, your tricep actually relaxes and goes into a slightly stretched state. When it comes to your posture, however, this principle can work against you.
As your posture deviates from neutral and some muscles lengthen, your body adds sacromeres, a functional, contractile unit of muscle fiber (Smith & Plowman, 2007), to those muscles to account for the length in the muscle. Alright, so that’s not too bad. Well let’s look at the opposite muscles now. Those muscles will shorten over time, reducing the overall muscle length. Think about pitching a tent. You want the tent to be straight up and down with the rope pulling equally on both sides. Well overtime if that tent were in a position that caused deviation, now one rope is longer, one is shorter, and the tent is now angled to one side. This is essentially what happens, from a side view, when you deviate from neutral for too long and develop kyphosis of the thoracic spine.
Here’s where your posture starts to kill you. You’ve developed kyphosis of the thoracic spine. Well, as Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said it, “when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.” Kyphosis of the thoracic spine often leads to a posteriorly tilted pelvis which then misaligns the hips, and misaligned hips can then cause deviation at the knees, and then that can cause deviation at the ankles. Now, you’re left with all these issues in your everyday life, and it starts to become uncomfortable to do anything at all, let alone exercise. When that happens, your general activity level goes down and now your body starts to forget basic movement functions, and it all goes downhill from there. This is a very big case scenario, but it happens.
Well, that was a lot of bad news and depressing facts. It all seems so daunting and hard to deal with, but there is good news. You can adjust it. All of it. Pending some major accident that has left you with pins, screws, rods, or a physical issue, you can adjust all your postural issues and get back to living life the way you want. The challenging part is where to start. You won’t adjust your issues on your own; you need to see a professional. As mentioned earlier, kyphosis is a common misalignment in the modern world often caused by daily activities. Add in some stability work to pull yourself back into a neutral, anatomically correct posture, and you’re on your way to better posture.
In part two of this article, we’re going to discuss a simple, yet highly effective, stability exercise that is going to help adjust your spinal misalignment over time, and leave you feeling much better.
Reinke, Mark. “What Is ‘Neutral Spine’ and Why It Is Important for You?” ACAC Fitness, 22 Mar. 2017, acac.com/markreinke/blog/neutral-spine-important/
Smith, Denise Louise, Plowman, Sharon Ann. “Understanding Muscle Contraction.” Sports-Specific Rehabilitation, 2007.