Stay limber at your desk

Posted on 23 June 2015

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that sitting is the new smoking. Dr Herman Kotzé has some life-saving advice for people who’re stuck at their desks all day long.

Are you sitting down? Then take a minute to stand up and walk around the room. (Don’t worry, we’ll wait.) Back? Good. More and more research is finding that, even if you exercise regularly, your might still suffer from too much sitting down. Analysis of 18 separate studies published in the research journal Diabetologia in 2012 found that people who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least. So if your work requires you to sit at a desk from 9 to 5, then maybe that novelty coffee cup was right: maybe your work really is killing you!

Oh, and it’s also a pain in the butt. When you sit, the nerves that activate your glutes can shut down, and begin to atrophy, or degenerate. And when that happens, other muscles and joints can become over-stressed, resulting in related pain your knees and lower back.

Bottom line: sitting down for long periods of time is so bad for you – and the phenomenon is so widespread among desk-bound office workers – that some doctors believe that sitting is the new smoking. It’s the modern world’s most common slow, silent, sedentary killer.

The solution? Stretching. ‘When you sit for a long period of time your blood pools in your legs,’ says Dr Herman Kotzé, a sport physician and general practitioner at Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. ‘If you stretch, that helps the blood to go back into your system, and you won’t get that swelling of the legs.’

Like many medical experts, Dr Kotzé recommends that you stand up for two minutes every 20 minutes that you’re at your desk. He says that sitting at a desk for hours on end can have a similar effect to a long-haul flight: only, instead of sitting in a cramped seat watching an in-flight movie for five hours, you’re sitting at your desk working through a report for eight. And the same rules apply:

‘The most important thing when you’re on a long-haul flight is to try to get up out of your seat every two hours or so, and to walk up and down the aisle,’ says Dr Kotzé. ‘When you sit in a cramped space, and blood starts to pool in your legs, that’s when you can get clots. So the best thing to do is to get up, walk 20 metres, do a few calf raises, stretch your legs, and go and sit down again. That should be enough.’

Sitting at a desk? Same rules apply. Stand, stretch, sit down. It’ll do your body the world of good. ‘Stretching will activate your muscles and keep your muscles supple,’ says Dr Kotzé, ‘and it’ll help increase your body’s blood flow as well.’

Published in Exercise

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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