A Physiotherapist on the physical consequences of sitting down for more than 4 hours a day

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You don’t smoke, you’ve reduced your alcohol consumption and you (mostly) eat your five-a-day. You’re doing pretty well, right? But, if like 57% of the population you sit for four or more hours a day, you could be doing yourself serious harm.

Sitting is thought to be the new smoking, with experts calculating it kills 70,000 people prematurely every year. Not only are we sitting for long hours during the working day, but according to a new survey from Mentholatum’s MIND YOUR BACK campaign, we’re compounding this by slouching on the sofa for another two to four hours in the evenings too.

Physiotherapist Sammy Margo warns: ‘The dangers of such a sedentary lifestyle is not simply reduced to low calorie burning, habitual inactivity leads to a slew of health issues known collectively as hypokinetic diseases.'

Sitting for more than an hour triggers changes in our body’s biochemistry, which alters fat and glucose metabolism and promotes weight gain. Scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast estimate that 11.6% of deaths – based on data for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, endometrial cancer and lung cancer – could be halted if we avoid sitting for such long periods.

Sitting causes physical pain too

Our inactive lifestyles are also proving to be a pain. They’re driving an epidemic of musculoskeletal pain, with two out of five people (39%) experiencing problems at least once a week.

The survey also revealed that over a third of adults’ experience more back pain than they did a year ago, two out of three adults (68%) have experienced pain as a result of their posture and four out of five people (85%) believe poor posture has an impact on health

‘There is a growing body of evidence highlighting the link between sedentary lifestyles and back pain,’ says GP Dr Dawn Harper. ‘We already have huge numbers of people reporting problems, and this is likely to continue to rise as a result of prolonged periods of inactivity, combined with ageing and increasingly obese population.’

What you can do to stop the problem

Experts in ergonomics (that’s the study of people’s efficiency in a working environment) advise anyone whose job involves sitting for long periods to take a one or two minute break to stand up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes. The panel of international experts suggests initially aiming for two hours of standing or light activity every working day and building up to four hours a day.

Mentholatum, the healthcare pain relief brand behind the survey, has worked with medical and activity experts to create Mind Your Back – following five simple S.T.E.P.S (Stretch, Therapy, Exercise, Posture and Strengthening) to help manage and prevent back pain and reduce the risk of serious inactivity-linked illness. For more information and five exercises that have been specially designed to strengthen muscles and help manage and prevent back pain, visit mindyourbackuk.com.

If you have any concerns about your lifestyle or are experiencing pain, speak to your GP for advice.