Where are you at this moment? Are you sitting down?
Are you aware that sitting for long periods of time has been called the “new smoking” in reference to its negative health effects?
Unfortunately, the negative effects are worse if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. They include a higher risk for herniated discs, stiffness of the joints and muscles, headaches, low energy, and muscle degeneration.
The important thing to remember is that sitting produces negative health effects independent of exercise. This means that the exercise routine that you do to build muscle and slow the progress of osteoporosis will be made less effective by long periods of sitting. In this article, I will offer ways for you to break the pattern of sitting for long periods. I will offer ideas about ways to move more throughout your day in a way that is safe and convenient.
Because humans are bipeds, meaning that we walk on two legs, our vertical spine is in a constant “war” with gravity. When standing, the weight of the torso, head, and arms is distributed down the spine, through the hips, and down the legs and feet, anchoring us to the ground with the pull of gravity from the Earth. When sitting, the weight distribution system is cut short, and sitting in a chair is actually the single activity that puts the most compression on the spine. When the spine is compressed with gravity, the discs get closer together, causing a strain. This makes it more and more difficult to keep an upright posture in the chair that ultimately results in abdominal weakness, hunched shoulders, and compressed lungs. Keeping an upright posture in the chair would actually dissipate some of this damage, however, the upright posture is very hard to maintain without strength that comes from regular exercise and frequent breaks. There are many ways to take a break. I will share four of these.
For the most basic way, simply stand up. Do not maintain a hunched posture when standing. Assume the tadasana stance of yoga by looking straight ahead and lifting your chin to be parallel with the floor. Straighten your knees, but do not lock them. Roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears. Spread your toes and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, take some long, filling breaths, and march in place for a few minutes, lifting your knees and elbows. This method is ideal for those who work in tiny offices because marching in place does not require a lot of space.
If space is available to you, take a walk down the hall or around the building, maintaining upright form while you walk. Lift your knees to make it a “power walk”. You may also incorporate short lunges. Widen and shorten the stance of your lunge for stability.
When at home, rolling out a yoga mat for the basic cat-cow stretch is a good way to take a break from sitting. This technique is generally safe for people with osteoporosis, because it involves no twisting of the spine. If your osteoporosis is in advanced stages, consult your physician about stretching. To do this technique, get in the all-fours position on the mat, with your knees shoulder-width apart. Let your head gently drop down between your arms, and arch the middle of your spine toward the ceiling, exhaling. This was the cat position. For the cow position, inhale while lifting your head and face and arching your spine, this time dropping your stomach and lower back toward the mat. Repeat the sequence at your own pace, remembering to inhale and exhale accordingly.
Another creative and effective way to take a break from sitting is to try rebounding. Rebounding involves a small trampoline for gentle bouncing. It is important to start slow when rebounding for the first time, because the jumping motion places some tension on the ankles and calves. After some practice, rebounding is an excellent way to improve posture because it is impossible to jump on the trampoline with a hunched posture. You can do this experiment. Get on a small rebounder, hunch your shoulders, and then try a small bounce. It is nearly infeasible to jump at all. When you straighten up again, look up, and put your shoulders back, jumping will be much easier because the spine is straight. Rebounding is a valuable tool for the prevention of osteoporosis because it is a weight-bearing exercise that is also low-impact. It is reported to have positive effects when building bone density, and improves the effectiveness of the vestibular apparatus (balance mechanism) located in the ear.
You now have four techniques to help you break the sitting cycle. Sitting less will help you feel better, avoid the negative effects on health, and increase the benefits of your regular exercise. The sources provide more techniques and information about sitting less and moving more to prevent osteoporosis. Remember to consult your physician or qualified professional before beginning any exercise program, including rebounding and yoga programs.