In my work as a personal fitness trainer, lower back pain motivates more people to come seeking help and to actually do the workouts than almost any other symptom. Sitting for long periods at a time, whether at a desk, while driving or in front of a screen causes most of it. The sitting position is what I call Reverse-Evolutionary: Knees and hips bent at 90-degree angles, necks jutting out, backs increasingly rounded. This position is terrible for the body and I would argue it terrible for the mind and emotions as well.
We were simply not meant to sit around all day.
There is science that shows that the body evolved a brain mainly to move it through space. Neuroscientist and engineer, Daniel Wolpert, a self-described movement chauvinist, argues that muscle contractions, even those having to do with speech and digestion, are the only ways, in his opinion, that we are able to really affect the world around us. To convince us of this he describes the life of the humble sea squirt. Sea squirts spend the first part of their lives looking for a place to live. Once they find the rock that will be their habitation for the rest of their lives, they implant themselves and immediately set about digesting their own brain for food. Without the need for movement, the sea squirts can’t afford the luxury of a brain.
Humans evolved to stand upright.
The reverse evolution that sitting causes is still slowly killing us. According to the latest Scientific Journal reports, sitting at a desk for eight hours a day has been shown to increase the chances of early death by 10-20 percent, increasing the risk of contracting chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Sedentary people have also been shown to be more prone to obesity, which also comes with a variety of health risks. I would also argue, and it has been shown, that sitting at a desk can be bad for your mental health as well, increasing incidents of anxiety and depression.
It’s easy to see this if you take the standard sitting position and exaggerate it just a little bit. I know it sounds very “woo-woo” to talk about vibrations and energy, but I’ll do my best to demonstrate. Try this with me.
You are probably sitting while reading this. If not, go ahead, take a seat and put this article in your lap. The reason it is so hard to explain the movement of subtle energy in the body and it's effects on our mood is because when your body’s energy is flowing well, it feels like nothing. But try a little slouch. Let your head move forward a bit, if it hasn’t already, relax your neck and let your shoulders round. Continue to extend that slouch a bit more, letting your back round and your shoulders slump. Stay here for a half a minute. This is what it feels like when your energy is not flowing.
How are you feeling? Probably not very alert, energetic or lively. Do you see how the symptoms of depression and anxiety could fester in this space? Now roll that spine on up and straighten your neck. Bring your shoulders blades back and down, lifting up your chest. Imagine there is a line attached to the top of your head lifting it up to the sky. This probably feels pretty free I imagine. Well, I don’t have to imagine. I’m doing it right now, and it feels great!
This ability to bring the shoulders up and the chest out atrophies the longer you spend sitting. The position we take to focus on our work actually lessens our ability to focus and our general quality of life over time.
More movement, in general, is the answer.
If you’re spending eight hours a day at a desk currently, you’re in luck. Improving your general quality of life is going to be pretty easy. Studies have shown incorporating simple habits like standing regularly can relieve many of the symptoms associated with chronic sitting.
Maybe it’s unnecessary to walk down the hallway to talk have a conversation that could be had over the phone or with a quick email, but the effort it takes to stand upright can stall reverse-evolution.
You could even stand while making that phone call if the walk is too big of an ask. If you are serious about the good life, there are even standing desks or desks with treadmills attached available so that you can stand upright and reap the benefits of your full evolutionary potential while you work.
But you don’t have to stop there. Try taking an exercise class or go on a short run or a swim on your lunch break and eat your healthy homemade lunch when you return. In a study reported by the Mayo clinic that analyzed the data from more than a million people, it was found that 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical exercise a day countered the effects of too much sitting.
Many workplaces offer group exercise classes for their employees. If your company doesn’t offer a group class for its employees, find out why. There is a good reason why a growing number of firms and most of the top firms do pay for their employees to get fit: increased productivity. Instead of becoming a sloth midday after lunch, come back exhilarated and ready for action.
So now you know reverse evolution is ruining the quality of your life and want to know what you can do right here, right now to reverse it. I’m glad you asked. Let me teach you a little exercise that can bring quick relief to the symptoms of reverse evolution. This is called a reverse plank. Slide your butt to the edge of your chair then walk your feet out until your knees are at 90-degree angles.
Set your feet about hip-width apart. Bring your arms out so that they are supported by the arms of the chair. You might want to block the wheels on that chair. Take a deep breath in. Pull your toes up. Bring your chest up and push your hips up. Squeeze your butt cheeks and draw your belly button in. Bring your butt down, release your toes and exhale. Try this three to five times repetitions, 3 to five times a day. If it’s easy to bring your feet out a little farther to increase the challenge.
Give me an email at More.Info@HappyBodyBerlin.com to tell me how it worked for you.
Billy Wayne Blackwell II is a certified personal fitness trainer, working at Holmes Place Wellness Spa in Berlin, Germany.
He is also the certified Happy Body Mentor in Berlin. Come see him if you are interested in finding a lifestyle that keeps your body happy.