Sitting for Eight Hours a Day is Worse than Smoking.

Via Brent Binder
on Jun 4, 2012
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Even if you exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.

That may be depressing for many people out there, however the solution is simple.

Kneeling chairs and stand up workstations are the best resolutions if your old ball and chain is actually a desk and a chair.

Does it sound terrifying to stand all day long while you plug away at the digital world? If your answer is yes, consider the possibility of a stroke, then re-evaluate.

When I first started practicing chiropractic I thought most of my patients would be construction workers and manual laborers. Turns out I rarely see someone who moves their body for a living. Seven out of 10 people in my practice have a sedentary occupation. And when their eight hour work day is done and they hit the mat, pavement or elliptical—bam! Time to call the chiropractor.

But there is one yoga related factor that must be considered for those who have a home practice and especially for those who lead other people through vinyasa on a daily basis. In Biomechanics it’s called rheologythe study of the flow of energy through materials. The materials in your body are bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Rheology studies how these structures move and deform with stress.

Commit this analogy to memory:

Ligaments and tendons are like credit cards. Bend them once and they pop back. Bend them and hold, they will permanently crease.

This is why consistent practice can increase flexibility. But it is also why all day sitters have poor spinal stability.

In biomechanics, a permanent crease is called deformation. If you’re sitting down reading this, your ligaments and tendons are deforming. So I’ll try to keep this short and then you can take a quick sun salutation.

You can probably guess which tendons are most at risk. Our primary concern are the hip flexors and extensors. In the seated position the hips are flexed. Therefore, the hip flexors are being shortened. These muscles include some major players in spinal-pelvic stability. The hip flexors are the following.

  •  >>Iliopsoas, which is made of psoas major, psoas minor and iliacus.
  •  >>Two muscles of the anterior (front) thigh, rectus femoris of the quadriceps and sartorius.
  •  >>Tensor fasciae latae, a gluteal muscle located on the outer thigh.
  • >>The inner thigh muscles, adductor longus, adductor brevis, pectineus and gracilis.

The hip extensors are simply the gluteus maximus and most of the hamstring group. The hamstring muscles cross and permit movement at two different joints of the lower extremity, the hip and the knee. Therefore, they get a double dose of deforming stress in the seated position because they are elongated near the hips and shortened at the knee. This unnatural engagement is what gives chronic sitters “tight hamstrings.”

The one element that you can’t adjust while sitting, even with the best posture, is your hips (where your thigh bone connects to the pelvis). When you’re sitting, pelvic muscles, tendons and ligaments are deforming. Period.

Thankfully, good yoga can help. Good yoga is balanced. Balanced means there are as many forward folds as there are backward bends. I don’t usually sit in the back of a class tallying up how many times I have bent forward or backwards. I try to keep my anatomical, analytical mind quiet and open.

Great yoga, in my opinion, is imbalanced.

Great yoga has more extension postures then flexion. Which is why at home I keep the down dog and the forward fold on the sidelines. I just don’t feel the need to fold forward in my yoga practice because that is what I do all day long, bending over to work on someone’s spine, entering information in the computer, picking up my daughter, etc. When I do yoga I want to counterbalance the postures of real life.

It’s very metaphorical and all that jazz, too. I am opening, giving, exposing and submitting to the moment. For me there is very little balance in life anyway. Instead, the pendulum swings from one slightly imbalanced moment to the next with shades of balance in-between. This means I do more bridge, crab, wheel, camel, bow, locust and reverse plank because seriously, do you ever find yourself in these positions throughout the course of the day?

So how do I transition from standing down to the floor? Its a good question that I would bet many of you are asking. Down dog and forward fold appear to be the golden gate transition postures of almost every yoga class. I have one word for you.


I can already hear all the groaning at the thought of replacing the beloved forward fold with a squat. Clearly, some people may not benefit because of, mostly, knee pain. I understand. One of my patients is an 85 year old avid gardener who can spend all day weeding in a forward fold without pain, but her face scrunches at the mere thought of a squat.

So it may not be for you. However any biomechanics textbook will tell you the same thing. If you want to balance out all the sitting, bending and folding that you do in real life, you have to start extending your low back and pelvis.

If you’re saying to yourself “I love the forward fold, it feels so good”—Stop. One rational explanation that it feels so good is because you are jumping right back into the position you’ve been in all day. For you, good = comfortable and familiar.

Remember, growth occurs when you are outside of your comfort zone. That goes for both emotional and physical growth.

If you have low back, pelvis or hip issues and you are one of those yogis who can forward bend all day long and never feel a stretch in your hamstrings, please consider what I am presenting here. You may need to strengthen those big guys on the back of the leg, not lengthen them more in a down dog.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger


About Brent Binder

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10 Responses to “Sitting for Eight Hours a Day is Worse than Smoking.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Ah! I've been waiting for someone to write this! Thank you Brent!

  2. lindsey buchheit says:

    Oh my, this is me. I have been battling issues in my right SI joint almost as long as I have been a yogi. Forward folds have never been a problem and yes, I sit for much of the day. At some points I have been close to giving up yoga altogether for fear that I’m making it worse. Thank you for this article!

  3. drbinder says:

    Next time… Just ask.

  4. drbinder says:

    Well Lindsey, usually we fear the unknown. But in this case it seems as if you were right on! I'll give you the Rx that solves 90% of the SI issues I commonly see. Ready? Lay on your back and fold your knees to your chest (I know that is flexion, just hold on). Now wrap your arms around your legs and push your legs out, resisting them with your arms. The muscular exertion will stabilize your pelvis in the flexed position. Push out for 9 seconds on an exhalation, rest on inhale. Repeat for 3 minutes. Do this 3x a day for 3 weeks. If you are the other 10% that doesn't respond, let's talk!

  5. Justin says:

    Sorry I have to say it… Do you have a source for the statement "Sitting for Eight Hours a Day is Worse than Smoking"? I would love to pass this along to some friends, but I know I'll hear it from them.

    Thanks for bringing the awareness regardless!

  6. drbinder says:

    Right on, Justin. It's a terrible statement, as is anything that begins with "Experts say." Vague extrapolations hold little clout in the academic world. Fortunately, good research with honest conclusions regarding sedentary lifestyles are becoming more prevalent.

    A simple google search of this articles title will yield 5,040,000 results in .22 seconds. Here are the first three results which feature similar pieces like this one with a more clearly defined lineage of information.

    For something a bit more academic, a pub med search among peer review literature using the words "sedentary lifestyle + cardiovascular" will yield 882 results, here is that search page.
    or this one in particular.

    Have fun. There are dozens upon dozens of papers that show the risks of sitting all day. There are also reviews of most of these studies, like the last link I provided. Some reviews have correlated those risks with that of smoking and thus, the foregone conclusion has been floating around the internet for some time now.

    If I were to really examine the initial statement I would also ask "how much smoking?" or "what is being smoked and how is it being smoked." So, there are lots of avenues to walk down here. But rest assured there are no clear answers because no one would ever subject a group of people to involuntary smoking or a forced sedentary environment, independent of all other cardiovascular risks.

    Throw it out there next time you and your friends are in a heated discussion and see what the moment brings. I'm sure it would be interesting. And please note that I am in no way advocating smoking in any way, shape, or form.

  7. I knew this computer was killing me. 🙂 Many of us have this problem and this prescription, analysis and footnotes are more than a generous offering, a sagacious counsel. If you didn't write so well I'd be standing by now. Thank you (and by the way, I've been doing that knee resistance instinctively because my body has asked me to although I often do it one knee at a time and will try your way, alone for the prescribed time).

  8. drbinder says:

    Sagacious. What a great word. And although this "prescription, analysis and footnotes" are an offering of personal experiences, what we must all consider, if not yet considered, is that all spines are different. And one must listen to the body before they listen to a blog. As you have demonstrated here. Thank you for that.