It is estimated that children today spend 85% of their waking hours sitting down. That means when they are not lying down sleeping, only 15% of their time is spend upright and moving around. These are shocking figures.
And it’s not just that sitting down that is the problem, it is how they sit down; all twisted and contorted, knees pulled up to their chest and positions requiring a suppleness that most of us adults can only dream of. But this is a serious issue.
We’re all fully aware that lifestyles, pastimes and entertainment have changed beyond all recognition over the last 20 years. One of the effects of this is that children are spending vast amounts of their developing lives sitting down, something that can lead to problems well into adulthood.
Prolonged sitting is one issue, but poor sitting posture compounds the problem. In the same way that ‘form’ in fitness is vital to doing things properly, guarding against injury and getting results, sitting down over long periods of time day in, day out needs to be done properly too.
Disc pressure on the spine increases by up to 300% when sitting compared to standing. This consistent repetitive compression for long periods of time is degenerative and causes spinal weakness. And any preventable weakness set in motion in childhood has a very real chance of being carried into later life and bad backs already account for 2.6 million lost working days a year in the UK (figures from 2018/19) and devastates day-to-day functional living for any sufferer.
What are the effects of prolonged and poor sitting?
A slower metabolism. Sitting requires much less energy than standing and moving. A reduction of energy requirements means a slower metabolism and this has several effects, the most notable being the body’s reduced ability to burn fat. Reduced fat burning equals fat increase and weight gain. Not only that but increased blood sugar and high blood pressure can also occur.
Compromised posture. Lots of sitting often means bad hip position, head and neck being thrown forward, rounded shoulders. All of which lead to aches and pains and potential long term injury.
Headaches. Headaches are never any fun but maybe they are not always the fault of tension, one drink too many the night before or dietary elements that don’t agree with you. The spine, neck and head are all linked. If the spine is contorted and set in positions it does not naturally want to be in, pressure is caused and this results in tension headaches and even migraines. These can have a significant effect on performance in the classroom.
For children these three problems can become set within them and cause decades of debilitating issues if not identified and acted on. For adults they can make a huge negative impact on our working, domestic and social lives. If deprived of reasonable, healthy weight bearing, the spine will weaken quickly and this can set in motion further problems throughout the body.
So what can we do about this?
Thankfully the answers are quite straightforward and eminently doable. When it comes to sitting, do so with hips a little higher than your knees. Keep feet planted flat on the floor for the majority of the time and use a chair with decent lumber support for the lower back - or invest in a lumber cushion.
The other immediate solution is - Stand up! Get to your feet every 30-45 minutes. Stand to have a cuppa, take a phone call and stroll around, walk the dog, get in the garden for some fresh air and a few minutes on your feet. Get the children to run around and play for a while. Do something! There’s recent data analysis of over one million people (Mayo Clinic) showing that 60-75 minutes of moderate activity a day can counter the effects of 6-8 hours sitting per day - and children are currently believed to be averaging 8.4 hours sitting a day.
All of which is another reason why we are so committed to getting children running, jumping, throwing and having fun in our after school athletic clubs and Academies. The value in getting the up and about, expending energy, getting their heart rates up, getting their muscles and bone structures bearing some weight is becoming more crucial all the time.
Kate Staples – founder of Daley Thompson Athletic Academies