How many hours do you spend sitting every day?
How many hours at the desk? Driving or riding in a car? At a table or on the couch? Most of us spend the majority of our day sitting down.
You may not know it, but your body is designed to adapt itself to the activities you do. It has many factors which help it to do this. If you sit all day, your body will adapt to being the best possible sitter it can be. And that is very helpful...unless you would like to go do anything else.
So, what is going inside this body thing? Here are a few tidbits:
Your nervous system: (the boss) has the job of sensing your environment and controlling and coordinating the responses of your trillion or so cells. You have special nerves called proprioceptors that give signals to your brain 24/7, letting it know exactly where your body is in space, how much work your body is doing and that all the muscles are communicating and cooperating perfectly. You have sensors for blood pressure, temperature, pH balance, air pressure, oxygen content, humidity and more that feed information into your brain to be organized, assessed, integrated and used to respond to the outside world. There are pain nerves to keep things from going too far and action nerves to keep muscles and organs moving and working. There is even a whole division of the nervous system just to tell your body how much to stress out or relax at any given moment. Your nervous system learns your particular environments, what you do in each and how to most easily adapt the body to whatever arises.
Your skeletal muscle system: (the force and energy generator) holds you up and allows you to move your body around. It uses the bones as levers in an ingenious balancing act, providing support, flexibility, strength and adaptability all at the same time! Those muscles also generate heat and energy to keep you warm and charged up. Skeletal muscles are simple little guys with only one job: to contract (shorten). It is very important they do their job well and only when asked. And, equally important that they rest fully and regenerate when not doing their contraction action, because that is when they make fuel for the next round.
Your connective tissue system (the great connector) is wrapped and layered throughout your body from just under your skin to your muscles, around your organs and all the way into the linings of your bones. This tissue is alive. It monitors your movement through pressure sensors and adapts its strength and flexibility to mold your body into the most efficient tool for the activities your body does every day. This includes any factors which influence posture, from activities to emotional states: think about a ballerina’s posture compared to a Sumo wrestler. Now think about a bright happy ballerina and a scared depressed ballerina. Your connective tissue helps to facilitate all of that.
There are also many other body systems: the circulatory, the lymphatic, the immune, the digestive, the respiratory, etc. None of which you can live without, believe me! But, we save them for another article.
So, why should you care (other than just geeking out over the coolness of body design with me)?
Most of us take this whole complex rigmarole for granted and don’t care actually, unless…something goes wrong. And the signal for that is pain. In the case of sitting, that’s lower back pain, hip pain, sciatica, upper back, neck pain and headaches. That pain keeps me in the business of pain management.
When you sit for even 3 min your body will completely adjust your nerve and muscle tension, your connective tissue will take over to support and your stress and environment sensors will heighten. And if you sit for a long time, day after day, your muscles will adapt: some setting themselves to a shorter length (your hip flexors, pectoral muscles, hamstrings) and some to a longer length (your back muscles, hips, triceps). The long ones will weaken and the short ones will get tight. Both will develop knots from the connective tissue trying to hold them together. And as they become less efficient at relaxing, making fuel and regenerating, they may begin to send pain signals to your brain to plead for a change.
So, what can you do? One of the reasons exercise is so helpful to prevent pain, increase cognition, lower stress and improve health is that it is a practice of doing different activities with the body. Use your body for many different activities and it will adapt to doing all of them as best it can.
So, go ahead and sit. If you’ve been doing it for awhile, you are probably really good at it. But, maybe sit less. Walk, run, dance, climb some mountains, play with your kids and your pets, get a massage, stretch, try new things, go to that yoga/tai chi/zumba/qi gong/pilates/aerobics/strength training class you’ve been considering. Your body will reward you with less (or at least new and different) pain. And your body will become more adaptable, strong, flexible and resilient.
Come see me if you would like to learn more! Or if you need help getting those pain signals calmed down, rebooting your muscles, resetting your connective tissue and getting back into the game. I look forward to working with you!