Spine Health - Sitting is the new smoking

January 15, 2020
Dr. G. Balamurali

The below is from a series of awareness articles written by the best spine surgeon in Chennai, India.

“If you would seek health, look first to the spine” - Socrates.

That is how important our spine is to our overall health and fitness. Through a series of awareness articles, I will be presenting some factors affecting our spine and how with little lifestyle modifications, we can ensure our spine deserves all the attention that it requires.

I shall start the series with insights on how sedentary living can affect your back and spine health.

Sitting is the New Smoking

Have you heard this phrase before and wondered why? By now, everyone is aware that smoking has various ill effects on our health, and is the foremost reason for cancer, cardiac problems, bronchiectasis and also emphysema. Statistics reveal that over 6 million people die of diseases caused by smoking.

Sitting, like smoking, is the primary cause of many disorders today. When I say sitting, I mean prolonged sitting, sitting for more than 3 to 4 hrs. A sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and lack of motivation to do any other activity can cause severe issues to our health.

As a child, our backs are designed to sit crouching. As we enter the school-going age, say by the age of 5, we are told to sit erect, and we follow this posture for the rest of our lives. Our body was made to be active, to exercise and run around. Sadly, the chair has become our harness, keeping us confined to a place.

Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle

I am sure you would have been warned by elders to sit straight and erect and not slouch. These bits of advice are not without reason. Let me show you some evidence to explain why prolonged sitting is harmful.

  • Cancer - The risk is higher in people who sit for more than 6 - 8 hrs a day, irrespective of the exercises they do.
  • Heart Attack - We all know that someone who sits for more than 6 hours a day is at increased risk than the ones who sit for say just 3hours a day.
  • Obesity - Most of us are aware that diet and lack of exercise are the primary reasons for Obesity. A third reason is being less active. A study by Mayo Clinic indicates that those who have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to be obese than those who are active (standing/walking) in their jobs. As if this is not enough, Obesity increases the risk of Diabetes, Cholesterol, Heart Diseases, Cancer and Depression. Chemicals such as Lipoprotein Lipase, control our cholesterol metabolism by burning down fat and energy. Well, those who sit for long, produce less of this. Now, can you imagine the kind of impact lifestyle plays on our health?
  • Depression - This is another grave disorder affecting people who do sitting jobs. 47% of people who are seated for more than 7 hours have depression. And if you don't exercise, this number goes up to 90%.

Sitting As a Direct Cause for Back Problems

One of the direct effects of prolonged sitting and bad posture is the stress on your back, causing frequent back pains. This is because your back muscles are weakened, and your spine is distressed due to wrong postures.

What can sitting do to your spine?

  • Well, it increases the load of pressure on your discs
  • Accelerates wear and tear
  • Weakens your muscles
  • Spine alignment is displaced
  • Early degeneration occurs

It is a deplorable state of affairs that 6 out of 10 people suffer from back pain above 40. But if you are sitting for very long, you are probably going to advance this to age 30.

So how can you prevent this scenario? Well, let me share some tips.

  • Avoid sitting for more than 2 hours
  • If you do have to sit this long, then take a 5 - 10 min break, walk around and stretch yourself.
  • If you are sitting and working for long, then stand and work for a while
  • Sit erect, don't slouch. Sit at a position of 90 degrees to your thigh
  • Ensure that your computer, table and keyboard are at a comfortable level. Workplace ergonomics matter a lot.
  • Take a stroll around, during your tea or coffee break.
  • Get out of your rooms. Don’t stay confined in air-conditioned space. Get some fresh air, expose yourself to some sunlight
  • Don’t get stressed, exercise regularly

On average, we work seated for around 6-8 hours a day, and we commute for about 2 hours. So extrapolating this, in our lifespan, we will end up sitting for approximately 32 years!! Isn’t that too long?

So sit smart, and whenever you can, avoid being seated for long periods together. Keep yourself fit. And remember to sit erect every time you do. The future is going to be all sitting, so beware and make your lifestyle changes today.

Related Posts:

Internationally trained Spinal Neurosurgeon with 24 years of surgical experience, from UK. Extensively trained in all niche aspects of spinal surgery as part of 3-year fellowship in the UK (Liverpool & Nottingham), USA (San Francisco & Chicago) and Switzerland (Zurich). Senior Spine and Neurosurgeon in India since 2011.
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About Dr. G. Balamurali
Head of Spine Surgery
Consultant Spine and Neurosurgeon
MBBS, MRCS (Ed), MD (UK), FRCS (Surgical Neurology)
Fellow in Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery - UK, USA, Switzerland
Fellow in Complex Spine Surgery – UK, Switzerland
Know my journey




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