Sitting can undo the benefits of a healthy lifestyle!

I have been warning people for years about the dangers of too much sitting. Now a number of sources have come up reasons not to sit too long that further convinced me!

Firstly, sitting is known to be one of the most compressive position on the spine and has been thought to lead to potential disc injury over time.



Our discs are tough but they are not meant to be constantly loaded without a break. Some people are lucky and have a greater degree of protection due to their genetics.  Not everyone is this lucky.  Typically I tell people, especially those with a history of acute low back pain attacks, not to sit for more than 30 minutes without either getting up or changing the position they are working in. This is all common sense and is easy to understand (although I do understand that some people might have different opinions).

Secondly, the new information (not that new really) shows that there is a high correlation between the amount of time you sit and the development of certain illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure  . This can certainly affect the average person but some groups are more prone to these diseases and sitting less might be one thing a person could do that would help to lower their risks. There has even been talk that people working hard to maintain their fitness, such as runners, can loose up to 8% of the benefit of their run from every hour that they are sitting. One author came up with the term ”active couch potatoes” to describe athletes who sit too much. Alex Hutchinson , on the Runner’s World web site commented

” sitting appears to have some significant bad effects that can’t be “cancelled out” by exercising. Too much sitting and not enough exercise are two different things, and they’re both worth paying attention to. ”

Finland have worked out ways to minimize the effects of sitting on children by including a 15 minute break in every hour in the class room. I believe that this was put in place to help stop children from being restless.   it has the potential to help in so many areas that it is something schools might want to consider bringing in anywhere. Businesses could learn from this example and help to reduce occupational health risks, as well as cardiovascular diseases, by encouraging regular breaks at work. Too often you hear that people work through their lunches and breaks, come to work early and stay well beyond what one might consider a reasonable working day.

Although the focus is often to try and help physical health getting up and being active has been recognised as a valuable tool in combating some mental health issues. Centres like the Mayo Clinic have strongly encouraged exercising, such as walking, as one tool to help combat complaints such as depression,

It may sound like a rant but the benefits of getting up and moving about, both physical and mental, are too important to be ignored. Some are calling sitting ”the new smoking” (Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative) because of all the associated problems that can be linked to inactivity. Perhaps instead of just saying prevention is better than cure we should be looking at ways to put good ideas into practice. As ”James Brown” once so aptly put it ”get up off of that thing”!

Be careful what you wish for….

These days we are inundated with information. One problem is trying to decide how much information you really need and what do you do with it once you have it?

Take for example imaging of work or sports injuries. We can see what the cause is and should be able to provide better treatment. Right? Well it’s not that clear cut.

A couple of recent studies come to mind. The first, a study on low back pain, found that patients who had been given MRI scans took the same amount of time to heal as people who had not been scanned. Straightforward and what you would expect. What was surprising was that the MRI group suffered more and had much higher disability scores during the healing period compared to the non-scanned group. Knowing the intricate details of their injuries seemed to disturb more than re-assure the MRI scanned patients. The second study looked at what injuries/problems a doctor could see as possibly being present from evaluating an MRI scan of a shoulder. A variety of injuries were observed in 40% of the participants including significant muscle tears. This study sounded straight forward as well except for one small problem. The subjects in the second study were all high level athletes with no symptoms or reported complaints and at 5 years follow-up no problems had been reported.

The moral? The human body is extremely adaptive and we get by in spite of various injuries that may really just become quiescent rather than totally disappear. Sometimes knowing more than really necessary can create anxiety that make someone’s suffering worse than it could be. We need to trust that our bodies will tell us when something is truly amiss. So, before you go to your doctor asking for a scan or x-ray for an injury you might want to think, is there anything to indicate that this is really serious enough to need imaging? It’s not always good to know everything..

It’s sometimes said that what you don’t know can hurt you but sometimes what you do know can hurt you too!! Be careful what you wish for, what you get/find out isn’t always good for you. ;’ )


stretching localization

People often come to me and tell me that they have been performing routine exercises to keep themselves flexible.  Oddly enough they often report that inspite of their efforts they still feel very stiff.

One reason that is often overlooked is that they are actually trying to stretch the wrong area/tissue.  If you want to improve flexibility, whatever your particular strategy, you need to stretch the correct area.

An example: People often try to stretch their hamstrings by putting one leg on a stool and then bending their  heads down towards their knee.  When you bend forward you are actually releasing the pressure on the hamstrings as you use the flexibility in your spine to get your head closer.  If you want to stretch one area (and this is not always the case) then it is best to localise your stretch.  To get the hamstrings you can first keep your back straight and push your shest out to remove all spinal flexion.  You then put one leg on a stool and then  lean forward like you were a waiter bowing (this is only one of the many ways to stretch the hamstrings).  You should worry less about how far you go and more about where you actually feel the stretch.  You wil get mostly the hamstrings if you leave your foot relaxed. You will get the calf muscles as well if you pull your foot up towards you.   Further load can be applied by turning your pelvis/hip/leg so that everything is kept square and there is no where else that can give way to relieve the load on the hamstrings.  I could give you more variations but this would be a could starting stretch.

Add some relaxed breathing, sustained holding and a bit of patience (repeating 3-4 times for 10 + seconds ,3-4 times a day)and over a few weeks you will feel your hamstrings getting looser.

The important thing to remember is that if you don't feel a stretch in the right area when stretching then you aren't really stretching…

Good luck with your health and fitness.


The victim and the criminal

Often patients ask why they have a problem in a certain place when there has been no obvious injury or reason for a complaint that has snuck into their lives.  There might not be any obvious incident and they can't think of anything they have done to cause their discomfort.

One way of looking at how the body behaves is to think that it will take care of you as long as it can. But that is as long as your wants match what is natural.  You have reflexes that try to keep your head vertical. Your nervous system is programmed to be sure that certain basic requirements happen.

In the case of a sore knee there are many factors that might be at fault.  If you have a problem your body will shift the pressure to another area to keep that part from becoming symptomatic and interfering with its tasks. This will continue to happen so as the next area becomes overloaded the pressure will shift again.  When there is no where left for the pressure to go the weakest part will become irritated.  If you get a stiff hip you may change the way you walk. This may affect your back or your ankle. As those areas start to stiffen up to try to avoid becoming irritated the knee will take more pressure.  Eventually you will find you knee complaining.  Too often treatment can be applied to the sore knee alone which is which is the victim in this conspiracy.  You have to  look hard to see the stiffness (which does not hurt, only limit you) or weakness(which you will compensate for) and the real criminal area that has made your knee hurt you. 

Whatever type of treatment you engage in the important thing in the long run is to be sure that the cause and not just the effects are dealt with.  Treating the pain alone will give relief temporarily but the underlying problems will eventually come back to haunt you.

Hope this has provoked some thoughts. Sorry I took so long to get something new on here. I will try harder next time. 

Best wishes and hope you are having a great summer!!