In late February, media outlets around the nation discussed a University of South Carolina study which correlated increased obesity in women today with decreased hours of housework.
Looking at many energy-expending activities of women between 1965 and 2010, researchers said the key variable over time was calories burned doing housework. Women in 2010 burned 200 fewer calories doing housework than the women did in 1965.
The study raised the ire of many, particularly women, including one who, according to CBS News, tweeted: “'The 1950s called, and they want their article back.'”
But media for the most part missed the more important point: We're sitting too much — findings echoed in other recent studies of men and women. It's led to a new societal ailment: sitting disease, which is leading to increased cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, headaches, blood clots and chronic neck, back and shoulder problems.
American adults average 7-9 hours a day sitting, according to several sources.
Athletic trainer Ben Schafer with Fort Wayne-based Indiana Physical Therapy says, “I think that's on the low end.”
Shafer is IPT's industrial service coordinator. In that role he assesses and advises businesses, industries and individuals on workplace ergonomics to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders and injuries.
“I think most people truly don't realize the adverse effects of sitting for a long time,” Schafer says.
The average American, age 3 and older, spends more than 34 hours a week watching live TV and another three to six hours watching recorded programs, according to a September Nielsen survey. And if you're over 65 — ouch! You're in front of the TV nearly 50 hours a week.
Australian researchers closely examined hours of TV watching with disease risk and concluded for every hour of TV watched while sedentary, 22 minutes are cut from our lives.
Add to TV sitting time the hours at a computer. We spend nearly three hours a day on the Internet alone, according to a 2012 report by eMarketer, which tracks and analyzes digital marketing, media and commerce data.
Americans drive, on average, 13,476 miles per year, which translates to 37 miles a day behind the wheel, says George Washington University's The Face the Facts USA, a project that vets information reported by a plethora of sources. Experts say even if you are working out at the gym for a day, sitting for the next eight hours is negatively impacting your health.
Sitting too long or with poor posture can lead to upper cross syndrome, Schafer says, referring to the imbalance that occurs between flexion and extension muscle groups in the upper body. Classic postural signs: rounded shoulders; back not straight; head and neck tilted forward.
The result is “the chest muscles get too tight and then the back muscles don't work the way they should,” he says, which causes upper back and shoulder pain, knots in the shoulder and neck, headaches, and even rotator cuff injuries.
Similar havoc is wreaked in the lower body, with tightened quadriceps and strain on the knee joints. Too tight quadriceps forces the pelvis to roll forward and leads to weakened abdominal and gluteus, or butt, muscles.
Most of us are not going to limit TV watching to time on the treadmill or exercise bike. We're also likely not going to decrease computer time or hours spent in the car.
So here are some practical, quick suggestions from Schafer and www.mayoclinic.com:
•Take frequent walks in the house or office. A study reported in 2012 in Diabetes Care found people who were overweight or even obese improved their blood glucose levels by interrupting their sitting every 20 minutes with a 2-minute walk.
•Periodically stand and do hamstring stretches; keep knees straight and bend forward; try touching your toes until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your thighs. Hold the position for 10 seconds.
•Don't forget the quadriceps: While standing, step forward with one leg; slowly bend the knee of that leg, keeping the opposite leg straight until you feel a gentle stretch on the top of your thigh; hold for 5 seconds; repeat with the other leg.
•Do the Brugger's postural relief position: Put palm of hands forward; tuck your chin back while squeezing your shoulder blades together; imagine you are trying to hold a pencil between your shoulder blades. This can be done standing or while sitting, back straight, on the edge of a chair.
•To improve neck muscles and range of motion, touch your ear to your shoulder and hold for a few seconds; repeat on the other side; tilt head forward until your chin is on your chest, then tilt your head back, looking at the ceiling.
Other tips: keep hydrated with water; take the stairs instead of the elevator; suggest a “walking meeting” instead of around a table; stand and move your feet while on the phone.
If you really want to avoid sitting disease, talk to your employer about a standing desk or make a personal investment in a treadmill desk. For examples, check out www.trekdesk.com or www.workfittreadmill.com.