January 16, 2019

Why Sitting at Work is Destroying our Bodies—& What we can do About It.

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Over the past few hundred years, the nature of our work has changed drastically.

We have gone from being active and mobile in fields and factories to jobs that require us to sit at desks and computers for long hours. And while this increased usage of technology has transformed our lives for the better in so many ways, we are also beginning to feel the negative toll it’s taking on our bodies.

The human body thrives with regular movement, and while our ancestors used to have this as an ingrained part of their day, most modern humans do not.

The average human wakes up, drives to work, sits at a desk using a computer, drives home, and then relaxes from all this sitting by sitting some more, likely in front of another screen (TV, computer, phone). In short, a whole lot of time sitting down, every day!

In fact, the sedentary nature of our modern world has begun to take such a toll on us that it has become the newest, most widespread health problem. If you haven’t heard by now, experts have determined that “sitting is the new smoking,” meaning that long hours of sitting have such detrimental effects on our health that it increases the risk of chronic diseases drastically. Scary, right??

What can we do if our job requires us to sit a lot?

Take yoga breaks at our desks!

While this doesn’t necessarily mean doing a headstand on your desk, it does mean regularly incorporating more stretches and movement into your workday. Doing so will help us to navigate the stressors of work more gracefully, keep our bodies both strong and flexible, help us stay on task to get more done in less time, and make sure that we are taking time for self-care.

Not convinced yet? Here are five more reasons to take a yoga break:

1) Yoga helps to keep the spine healthy and core muscles strong.

Within just a few minutes of using our devices (whether it’s a computer, phone, tablet, or steering wheel), we tend to round and slouch over. This slouched position causes increased neck and shoulder tension (called “tech” or “text” neck) and can lead to muscle weakness, which sets the stage for pain and possibly injury.

Since it challenges us to move in many different directions and hold unique positions or poses called “asanas,” yoga awakens sleepy muscles to make sure they stay active and strong. By encouraging us to move our bodies through their healthy range of motion, yoga helps us to maintain our natural spinal curves, deepen our flexibility, maintain bone density, and keep our joints mobile and our muscles strong.

2) Meditation boosts brain health.

In our busy world, we are constantly bombarded with information. Yoga invites us to draw our focus inward to pay attention to our body, our breath, and our thoughts. This focused attention is found to have profoundly powerful effects on our brain, particularly the part of our brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a key player in memory and concentration and is one of several parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, so it is important to keep it healthy.

Meditation is also known to soothe stress by lowering cortisol levels, promote feelings of calm, and slow the aging of the brain to keep us sharp for decades to come.

In addition to these powerful neurological benefits, meditation gives us the chance to shift our focus inward and consciously tune into ourselves, which is something that we don’t tend to do as often as we should.

3) Deep yoga breathing encourages a good mood.

Being rounded over a keyboard places the spine in a C-shape (rather than the usual and ideal S-shape). Because this posture restricts the movement of the diaphragm, our ability to breathe deeply (or what is called our vital lung capacity) drops significantly. This drop triggers a stress reaction as our heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing all speed up to make sure that we get enough oxygen.

By encouraging us to sit up tall and be aware of our posture and breath, yoga helps to counteract the stress of habitually short and shallow breathing. In as little as three deep breaths (about 20 seconds), the heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, and oxytocin is secreted. Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone that helps to shift the nervous system into a relaxed state while promoting healing and happiness. This lends to a shift in our outlook, which research shows helps us to feel more optimistic, patient, levelheaded, and easier to get along with.

Being in a good mood means that interactions with coworkers will likely be less stressful, and it helps to improve workplace morale and productivity.

4) Yoga is energizing.

Having such a powerfully balancing effect on our bodies on all levels (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual), yoga helps us to have more consistent energy throughout the day. With our spine in good alignment, our muscles can work more efficiently, our organs can function better, and our hormones can balance out.

All of this translates to less fatigue and more clarity, creativity, and productivity. Yes please!

5) Regular practice of yoga means fewer injuries and sick days.

Yoga helps keep our bodies in balance inside and out. By lowering stress levels, boosting immune function, and improving sleep quality, yoga helps us to get sick less often and recover more quickly when we do. Also, yoga poses help maintain the important balance between strength and flexibility to keep muscles active and joints mobile, which lowers the risk of injury.

With its focus on overall health and vitality, yoga helps us to cultivate balance inside and out. This state of steadiness and calm means less physical and mental fatigue so that we can stay focused and on top of our game all day at work.

Give yourself time each day to stretch, move, and breathe. Your body (and boss) will thank you.

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