Hi all and welcome back to another week of Get Constructive!
Last week the GC took a much needed break to replenish the Vitamin D levels after a long UK winter and we are back in full swing, both online and at the coal face on site. With the energy levels recharged, today we are looking at an issue that extends well beyond the realms of construction and into the lives of all people, despite their occupation, age, gender or nationality.
We are talking about an activity that the average person engages in for up to 9.3 hours every day. Many of us do it more than we sleep. We do it when we eat, we do it while travelling, we do it at work. We have ingrained this function so deeply into our way of life that medical experts are beginning to label it ‘a disease’ that is degrading our bodies and opening us up to the full spectrum of health issues including obesity, diabetes, cancer and depression. This self-inflicted issue is quite literally shortening our lives, and that issue is sitting.
It may seem far-fetched to think that something as ‘normal’ as sitting down for long periods on a daily basis could in fact be damaging our bodies and driving us to an early grave but recent studies show that even those engaged in daily exercise and healthy eating could still be significantly increasing their risk of major health problems by spending the majority of their day sitting at the computer, in the car or on the couch.
In a construction context, we often spend lengthy periods travelling in a seated position to or from the work site or office and this is then followed by a day operating a machine from its driver’s seat; being seated at a desk or in meetings; and then heading home to sit down for dinner and some much needed relaxation after a long day; all in compromised seated positions in chairs designed largely for aesthetics and not for function. Let’s face it- we sit all the time and as mobility expert Kelly Starrett puts it- “It’s an unfortunate reality of modern society”.
We could go on all day with doom and gloom about sitting and inactivity and how it could be affecting us in the long term but instead, like all construction personnel- the Get Constructive community are problem solvers and today we are going to look at a few tangible ways to optimise our routines and still move towards our health and wellbeing goals despite the work and lifestyle constraints that confine us to these murderous chairs day in and day out.
Tip #1 – Improve your seated position
Whenever we discuss anything regarding posture, injury prevention or mobility, we continually come back to the work of Kelly Starrett, with his background and wealth of resources listed in last week’s Get Constructive post (link here). In an excerpt of his book ‘Becoming a Supple Leopard’ (link here), Kelly explains the optimal seated positions and how to sit when we know this position is going to be unavoidable in our daily routines.
Kelly states that in order to stabilise our spines and maintain a strong position while seated, we need to get organised with a ‘bracing sequence’ before we sit down and then maintain a small amount (around 20%) of tension in our abs while seated to keep this optimal position. It can be hard work to keep this going over a long period and every hour or so, it can help to stand up and walk around, reset our posture then set up for another sitting period.
If it feels like the seat of your car or 4WD or the chairs provided at your workplace are influencing a poor, hunched-over seating position, then changing the chair or modifying it may also help to improve your seated posture and reduce the problems associated with negative sitting positions. This could be as simple as rolling up a small towel and placing it between the lower back and the chair to provide some extra support, or the next step is to purchase a proprietary back support that will fix to the chair and again support the lower back in the hope of improving posture while in the chair for long periods. It is important when correcting posture in this way, especially with a support- that we find a balance and don’t overcorrect in arching the back too far in the opposite direction to compensate.
Tip #2 – Reduce the time spent sitting
Using some project management terms- where Tip #1 is about mitigating the risk, this next tip is about eliminating the risk all together. It is easier said than done for many of us but quite simply, for the benefit of our health and wellbeing over the long term- we need to come up with creative ways under our current circumstances that we can reduce the amount of time we are spending sitting down.
In reading this post, hopefully you are already recognising just how long you are spending seated in your own life and in doing this, we can start to identify areas where small or even wholesale changes can be made so that more of this seated time can be spent in a strong standing, or even active position. Self-optimisation genius Tim Ferriss in his article ‘Reinventing the Office: How to Lose Fat and Increase Productivity at Work’ (link here), outlines a list of some amazing innovations he implemented in his office to help employees maintain high levels of productivity while also focussing heavily on the mobility, health and wellbeing of his staff during their time at work.
One such innovation is the standing workstation. This is not a new idea, with benefits of standing desks and workstations being recognised for some time. However, actual use of these to date, especially in the construction industry is still very minimal. The type of standing workstations range from electronically adjustable desks that can be set to seated or standing positions, costing upwards of $2000 (AUD), all the way through to the Ergotron WorkFit-P, Sit-Stand Workstation (link here) for around $300 (AUD).
The idea of forking out your own hard-earned money for office equipment may not be too exciting for everyone, however any such purchase is sure to be tax deductible and the benefits long term could be well worth the investment. For office staff in full-time positions that have employers receptive to ergonomic and health and wellbeing initiatives, a well worded pitch to the PM to buy one of these could result in the company providing such equipment free of charge and in the process could also generate some dialog at your work place and encourage others to consider their posture and levels of activity in the office.
Finally, if this still doesn’t help your cause and you feel doomed to a life of desk-jockeying and neck pain- take small steps at other times of the day to stand in a braced position and consider your posture. It could mean that giving up your seat to someone on the tube for your hour-long commute not only covers your good deed for the day but it is also helping you in terms of mobility, activity and your physical health.
Tip #3 – Improve overall mobility
This final point in Tip #2, where we can aim to consider our posture and mobility across the work day, leads nicely into Tip #3 and the real point of today’s post. Although sitting consistently for extended periods could be causing us long term health issues, the bigger issue is really around our overall mobility and how we can maintain posture; engage the right muscles; and develop a positive systems-based approach to how we conduct ourselves physically while working, exercising, sitting, standing or even sleeping.
No matter what our level of activity, some practice in mobility and self-maintenance is absolutely essential in maintaining health and fitness in the long term and it goes hand in hand with any exercise or healthy eating initiative you may be taking on in the pursuit of your goals. There is unfortunately no one-size-fits-all approach and it is a matter of listening to your body to know where you are feeling pain, tightness or limited range of motion and then seeking out the practice to address it.
Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD (link here) and his books are again, the best place to start and by purchasing a foam roller and some stretching bands, and by devoting yourself to 10-15 minutes each day of mobility work at the gym after exercise or at home in front of an episode of My Kitchen Rules- you will be going a long way towards beating the ‘sitting disease’ and the long term effects of a life on the road, driving machinery or battling in trenches at a computer screen.
Until next week, UK followers enjoy this glorious (yet intermittent) bout of sunshine and to all readers, stay safe and Get Constructive!