Thursday, October 13, 2011

Health Care and Sitting Too Long

Men and women who work in offices have long felt the effects of sitting too long at their desks. Back and neck pain are common, and stiff muscles and joints creak when you get up and walk just for even a short distance away from your desk. Chronic health issues can also result from sitting too long in one position without moving. Health care professionals warn against the lack of movement when you are sitting in one position for long stretches of time.

Do you have a pain in the rear that isn't caused by your boss? This literal pain in the buttocks could signal an inflamed piriformis muscle, which helps stabilize the hip, leg and pelvic area. The piriformis, often overlooked as a cause of sciatica, can become inflamed, usually from sitting too long or rotating the leg outward (as when driving). When inflamed, the muscle can harden and press on the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica pain in the buttocks that radiates down the leg to the ankle or middle of the foot. It may be felt in the lower back, too. Sitting usually makes it worse, while standing or walking often makes it feel better. The good news from the Arthritis Foundation is that the sciatica caused by an inflamed piriformis usually does not require surgery. It can be relieved by ice or heat; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen; physical therapy, including deep massage and range-of-motion exercises; and corticosteroid injections, according to Health Scout.

According to WebMD Health News, too much sitting isn’t ideal. Now a new study suggests it’s not just the length of time you spend sitting down, but the number of times you get up during that time that can influence your health. The study, published online in the European Heart Journal, examined the total length of time people spent sitting down and breaks taken in that time, together with various indicators of risk for heart disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and inflammatory processes that can play a role in the blocking of arteries. It suggests that plenty of breaks, even if they are as short as one minute, seem to be beneficial.

Scientists are increasingly warning that sitting for prolonged periods — even if you also exercise regularly — could be bad for your health, according to a report in USA Today online. And it doesn't matter where the sitting takes place — at the office, at school, in the car or before a computer or TV — just the overall number of hours it occurs. Research is preliminary, but several studies suggest people who spend most of their days sitting are more likely to be fat, have a heart attack or even die. In an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences suggested that authorities rethink how they define physical activity to highlight the dangers of sitting. While health officials have issued guidelines recommending minimum amounts of physical activity, they haven't suggested people try to limit how much time they spend in a seated position.

After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals, and genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down. Even for people who exercise, spending long stretches of time sitting at a desk is still harmful. Also, according to the World Health Organization, people who exercise every day — but still spend a lot of time sitting — might get more benefit if that exercise were spread across the day, rather than in a single bout.

Australian research found that long periods of sitting down, even in people who did a lot of exercise otherwise, were associated with worse indicators of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation, such as larger waist circumferences, lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, and higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important marker of inflammation) and triglycerides (blood fats). However, the study also found that even in people who spent a long time sitting down, the more breaks they took during this time, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of C-reactive protein, according to WebMD Health News. The dangers of being too big around the middle are well-documented.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, high-risk waist circumferences are:
--Over 40 inches for men.
--Over 35 inches for women.

The potential adverse health impact of prolonged sitting (which is something that people do on average for more than half of their day), is only just being realized; and research highlights the importance of considering prolonged sedentary time as a distinct health risk behavior that warrants explicit advice in future public health guidelines. The study suggests even small changes could help, like standing up to take phone calls, walking to see a colleague rather than phoning or emailing, and centralizing trash cans and printers so you have to walk to them. If you’re sitting for long periods, it’s really important you take regular breaks by getting up on your feet. Regular physical activity is essential to protect cardiovascular health.

According to ABC News online, another study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that sitting for long stretches, more than six hours a day, can make someone at least 18 percent more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease and obesity than those sitting less than three hours a day. Doctors say the evolution of technology has impacted the way individuals use their bodies. Humans have moved from the active life of being hunter-gatherers to becoming agriculturalists. The Industrial Revolution moved people to factories and the technological revolution landed workers behind desks and into the culture of sitting too much. Sitting has become a new form of smoking. Smoking was once so common that people were reluctant to see the health hazard it posed.

The American Cancer Society is concerned that public health guidelines do not say enough about time spent sitting down. Sitting for a prolonged period of time, independent of physical activity, has been shown to have important metabolic consequences, and may influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin. Government exercise recommendations suggest at least 30 minutes on five days per week of ‘moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity’. They also say 20 minutes of ‘vigorous-intensity’ activity for at least 20 minutes on three days per week would produce similar benefits. Also, diabetes experts point out that sitting is not bad for you in moderation but can be addictive and harmful in the long-run.

A sedentary lifestyle is not just a lifestyle lacking in exercise, according to Dr. Michael Cutler, founder and editor of Easy Health Options™ newsletter—a leading health advisory service on natural healing therapies and nutrients. Rather, it is a set of behaviors that are devoid of whole-body muscle movement and promote bad health. So if you sit for hours watching TV… take long plane or car rides… work long hours sitting at your desk or a computer… or keep your legs and ankles crossed whenever you sit, you could be endangering your health. When you sit for a long period of time, your blood flow can become sluggish and pool in your larger veins. This creates a higher risk of your developing blood clots within your thigh or calf known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—a condition in which there is a blood clot in a deep vein (a vein that accompanies an artery).

Close to 2 million people in the United States (U.S.) develop DVT each year, most of whom are 40 years old or older. There is the danger that a leg clot can break free and travel through the blood vessels to the lung, which can be extremely serious and even fatal. At least 200,000 people die each year from blood clots in their lungs—a condition known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). But there are natural ways you can avoid becoming a statistic…

■ Stand, stretch and bend your toes.
■ Walk around every hour or so, if possible.
■ If walking is not an option, then stretch or bounce your legs, wiggle and flex your toes and roll your ankles backward and forward.
■ Keep your weight under control.
■ Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration that causes blood vessels to become narrow and blood to thicken.
■ Take all-natural blood thinners such as Nattokinase.

The evidence certainly is stacked against all those couch potatoes and office junkies who sit and sit and sit, and never move. They are a walking health time bomb waiting to explode into an early catastrophic medical event. Don't be one of those. Get up and get out. Too much time sitting is proven to be bad for you. Take time to move, to exercise, to get a life.
 
Until next time.

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