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When sitting at a table and reading a newspaper, book or mobile device, we tend to lean on one arm. This uneven position burdens one side of the body. Sit up straight, rest your hands in your lap and do some stretching exercises to revitalise your neck. Photo: Saara Lehtonen, TAMK

Sit down, please!

In recent years, there has been much talk about the deadly effects of sitting. However, experts say that people should not be overly concerned. The key is to change positions and to interrupt sitting by occasionally getting up.
4 min

You are probably sitting down while you are reading this story. And yes, I wrote this story sitting down. We all sit every day, for example, at work and while eating or watching television.

The media often portrays sitting as lethal. However, physiotherapy teachers Tarja Tittonen and Maria Maljanen from Tampere University of Applied Sciences think that people should not be blamed for sitting.

“Sitting for an extended period of time in a burdened position may even be fatal. However, what matters is not the sitting position you are in, but the time you spend in any one pose,” Tittonen says.

On her chair, Tittonen slides lower – close to horizontal – and while it may look awkward, the posture is not necessarily worse for one’s back compared to many other positions.

“Time is the burdening factor here, ie how long I sit in this position and how and where I feel the posture,” Tittonen explains.

After a long day, it is tempting to slump on the sofa and put your feet up on the coffee table. This position burdens your neck and lower back while activating your buttock muscles.Sit up straighter with your back against the back rest. Raise whatever you are reading to eye level, as this removes the burden on your neck. Place the soles of your feet on the floor, so the backs of your thighs are no longer taking most of your weight. PS: When we sit, we tend to place one leg on top of the other. Switching which leg is on top spreads the burden more equally. HUOM: Yleensä istuessa tulee pidettyä jalkaa toisen päällä. Puolenvaihto silloin tällöin auttaa tasapuolisen kuormituksenjakautumista.

Our bodies tell us when they are uncomfortable

People who work at a computer often hunch for long periods in their typical postures. Instead of putting a stop to sitting, it is important to notice when you need to do something else or change positions. The experts advise that sitters take note of essential things: time, burden and body awareness. It is worth paying attention to one’s posture actively.

According to Marjo Rinne, senior researcher, doctor of health sciences and a physiotherapist at the UKK Institute in Tampere, a good sitting posture is one where we are able to breathe normally. For example, breathing becomes difficult when we slump on the sofa for a long time.

Could we have a built-in observation system that would tell us when to get up?

“We actually have one already because different nerve endings notice bad sitting postures. Information passes through the central nervous system through joint and muscle sensation and the skin’s mechanoreceptors. Our bodies thus tell us when they are getting uncomfortable,” Rinne explains.

Those of us who are office workers spend most of our days working in front of a computer. We tend to hunch towards the terminal and keyboard and sit on the edge of our chairs. This position burdens the back and strains the neck and shoulders. Sit deeper in your chair and move it closer to your desk. It is good to have at least a part of your forearms on the table or the armrests of your chair, as this reduces the burden on your neck and shoulders. If you work on a laptop, turn the computer so that the direction of your gaze and the position of your head and shoulders becomes more ergonomic. PS: Remember to take breaks and to get up and move around regularly.

Get up whenever possible

The culture of sitting is so strongly ingrained that children are often asked to sit up with their back straight on their chair. Children tend to sit on the edge their chair in order to reach the floor with their short legs. Rinne says that adults should in fact sit in the same manner.

“When an office worker sits with his or her back straight, the body’s centre of gravity rests on the pelvis, which puts a burden on the back. Instead, people should sit on the edge of their chair with their legs spread, which places the weight on both feet and makes the burden more evenly distributed,” Rinne notes.

The key is to change postures and occasionally interrupt sitting by getting up. Breaks in sitting, changes in working postures, and physical activity not only activate the musculoskeletal system but also the brain. So, it is worthwhile to stand up, for example, at meetings, even though the people present might look at you askance.

“Whenever possible, get up and change your posture,” Rinne urges.

You may also move about when you make phone calls, and you could arrange walking meetings. Active sitting – for example, on a saddle chair or a gym ball – or standing on a balance board are also good ways to learn new habits.

When sitting at a table and reading a newspaper, book or mobile device, we tend to lean on one arm. This uneven position burdens one side of the body. Sit up straight, rest your hands in your lap and do some stretching exercises to revitalise your neck.