Whether you’re working at a desk, commuting, watching TV, parking it to eat, or sitting to socialize, the time you spend with your behind in a chair isn’t doing your body any favors. Sitting for hours on end is a large part of why your shoulders, glutes, and hips feel stiff as a board when you tuck yourself into bed at night.
But when it comes to the physical ailments that follow a long day behind the desk, it’s really not sitting itself that’s the problem, says Pete Egoscue, Co-Founder of Elev8d Fitness. “If your mind can conceive of a position or activity, the body is capable to implementing it without harming itself,” he says. It’s bringing a body that’s out of alignment into the chair that causes so many of the problems we blame on sitting itself.
Yes, You Should Still Sit Less
We’re definitely not saying you shouldn’t decrease the amount of time you spend sedentary. Countless studies have shown that the more hours you spend inactive, the higher your risk for major diseases like diabetes and heart disease—even early death.
Indeed, there are some aspects of sitting that nothing but moving around can fix. For example, when you sit, the fascia around your muscles are forced into a shortened position, so when you stand up after an hour or two, you’re trying to stretch out contracted fibers, explains Lev Kalika, D.C, clinical director and founder of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy in New York. Plus, your body can’t circulate blood as well when you’re sitting, so fluid accumulates in the muscles below your waist. That’s why you feel so stiff when you stand after sitting through a movie or long meeting, he explains.
Moving more throughout the day can help with both. In fact, one study from Pennsylvania State University found that sitting didn’t lead to significant spinal compression if people changed their position every 15 minutes.
Why Functionality Matters More
“We are a motion machine by design, but our environment is changing faster than we can evolve to keep pace with it,” Egoscue says. “If you aren’t conscious of the fact that we live in a motionless world, that hour you spend in the gym isn’t going to solve any of your problems.”
Why not? Because going for short walks throughout the day and moving your body at the gym doesn’t restore actual functionality. “Your body adapts to whatever it spends time doing, so once your body adapts to being functionless—slouching in a chair or on a couch, completely inactive—you can’t address any of the problems without fixing your functionality,” Egoscue says.
Kalika agrees: “The real problem with sitting is that pretty much everyone starts to slouch after just a few minutes of sitting in a chair. Because all the joints and muscles in your body are connected, if your shoulders are jutting forward and your spine is in a C-curve instead of an S, this causes your pelvis to tilt and you aren’t actually sitting on the bones that were created for sitting,” he says.
But there’s an answer! Both experts agree that sitting properly is an active state, not a passive one like most of us treat it. “Sitting in a proper, aligned way will help you feel less stiff after a long day,” Egoscue says. “The more you allow your big postural muscles—shoulder girdle, pelvis, hip girdle, knees, ankles—to work, the more energy you’re burning, the more posturally sound you are, and the less stiffness and noticeable symptoms you exhibit from sitting all day working,” Egoscue says.
Ideally, you’re sitting with your feet hip-width apart and parallel to one another, back away from the chair, shoulders locked back and down, core engaged. The problem: Keeping good posture is fatiguing to both our muscles and our mind. You have to train your muscles to be activated for the sitting marathon you put it through day in and day out.
And that’s where Elev8d Fitness comes in. If you do the workouts four days a week, you’re training yourself to recruit those big postural muscles naturally. “You’ll sit with proper alignment without having to think about it,” Egoscue says.
Kalika agrees: “If you can go into the day with your body in alignment and muscles activated and trained to sit actively, that can mitigate the physical consequences most people feel after a long day of sitting.”
In other words: Think about sitting as a workout. You’ll create and maintain a lot more energy from an active sitting position than the C-curve slump and the aligned position will become easier and easier. “If you are functional and do the things that keep yourself functional every day, then you’re bulletproof in the motionless world,” says Egoscue.