Many people tend to sit in front of their computers for long hours without taking a break. That could lead to numerous health problems, including chronic diseases like obesity, and joint issues especially in the back, neck, spine which affects overall strength. Blame it on the pandemic or otherwise, “leading an inactive lifestyle can lead to poor quality of life, and increased morbidity and mortality rates”, say experts.
What is an inactive lifestyle?
According to Heart Research Institute (HRI), global recommendations for adults are to take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week. Those who do not get the recommended level of regular physical activity are considered ‘inactive’, as they experience a lack of exercise and movement.
Why is it a cause for concern?
As per HRI, the body and its systems – including the heart and cardiovascular system – are built to work more effectively when upright. Inactivity, however, means fewer calories are burnt, making weight gain more likely.
“A sedentary lifestyle can triple your chances of suffering from notorious cardiovascular diseases, obesity, hypertension, hormonal imbalance, a sluggish metabolism, poor blood circulation, colon cancer, inflammation in the body as people tend to spend long hours relaxing, and there is increased screen time, binge eating and immobility. This is when obesity strikes in and furthermore, it can also invite other worrisome health issues such as sleep apnoea, joint pain, and even stroke,” said Dr Rakesh Nair, consultant knee replacement surgeon at Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Chembur.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 to 85 per cent of people in the world—from both developed and developing countries—lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of children are also insufficiently active, with serious implications for their future health.
Not only this, your sedentary lifestyle may not spare your bones and spine too, doctors say. “There will be a loss of muscle strength, endurance due to not using muscles. Owing to low bone-mineral density and weaker bones, one may suffer from osteoporosis. Likewise, a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to back and neck problems as the back becomes stiff, weak, and gets deconditioned which gives rise to neck pain. If you are seated for extended hours then the spine can also become sore, painful, and stiff. You may encounter pain even if you are relaxing and sitting as the muscles, discs of your back, and neck get pressured,” explained Dr Nair.
According to Dr Shubhang Aggarwal, orthopaedic and robotic joint replacement surgeon and founder, NHS Hospital, Jalandhar, a bone absorbs positively charged calcium by the negative charge created by muscle pull on bones. Even if you take lots of calcium, osteoporosis can develop in inactive people and falls happen due to weak muscles.
“If your work involves long hours of sitting with limited breaks and you do not exercise to strengthen your muscles and condition your heart, your spinal structure can go for a toss. There is a genuine chance of developing cervical spondylitis with risk of disc damage, developing a stiff spine and strained sore shoulders,” explained Dr Aggarwal.
Even slouching is not recommended as it tends to stretch spinal ligaments beyond their capacity, and the improper posture can pressurise the spinal discs too causing bulging of the disc as there is wear and tear of the spine.
Not just physically, but inactiveness also impacts mental wellness, too. “You may become stressed, anxious, frustrated, depressed, and restless, and irritated due to inactivity for long hours at a stretch, insufficient sleep, and hectic schedules. You will feel low and can tend to get forgetful as your cognitive health may decline,” said Dr Nair.
What can do you do?
If you develop back pain or neck pain, or any chronic fatigue, get yourself checked by your orthopaedic surgeon, said Dr Aggarwal.
What can you do to prevent the condition?
Among the preventive measures recommended by WHO, are moderate physical activity for up to 30 minutes every day, tobacco cessation, and healthy nutrition. “Try to remain active by climbing stairs, do household chores, take frequent breaks between the hectic schedules and stretch, walk as much as you can, meditate to stay stress-free, and you can also opt for a stand-up desk that can aid proper blood circulation,” said Dr Nair.
Work ergonomics can help avoid these problems.
*Sit straight with your lower back supported if you have long sitting hours.
*Ensure that the top of your computer screen is at your eye level.
*If you look down and work on paper, use an incline which can be simply made out of two registers at the back so that the angle changes by almost 45° while looking at the book that you are reading. When you spend long hours craning your neck and looking down, this little change in the angle can help prevent cervical spondylitis, said Dr Aggarwal. This can also work for mobile use.
*Simple neck stretch can help. In this, you sit looking straight and tilt head slowly to one side, taking ear toward the shoulder and then back up. Same to be repeated for backwards and other side. Make sure that you feel the stretch and perform this daily for five minutes. Ensure that you sit in an upright position without slouching.
*Stretching your body is a major necessity. Stretch your legs and arms every hour while working. When you are at home, stretch hip flexors every evening/morning for five minutes per side. If possible, every hour or so stand up and take a two-minute stroll.
*Even performing yoga anytime would be great. It keeps you both physiologically and psychologically healthy.
*Get adequate sleep.