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.
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.
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.