Asking a patient whether or not they smoke is a standard assessment for most healthcare providers. Smoking history is an important indicator of cardiovascular health and life expectancy. But do you ask patients how much they sit?
It turns out our sedentary practices, due mostly to the increased use of technology, have many of the same negative consequences as more commonly loathed habits like smoking. In fact, Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic–Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative says, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
If your patients are like most Americans, they sit more than six hours per day. According to a 2013 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that increases their chances of early death by 10% even if they exercise regularly, and by 40% if they don’t. Mayo Clinic says sitting too much can lead to increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. All of these factors compound, leading to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses.
Talk to your patients about how much they sit at work and in their free time, and suggest easy ways they can inject more movement into their daily routines.
Here are some suggestions you can give them:
- Play more with your kids. Instead of sitting on a bench at the park, climb up the jungle gym, play chase, or swing from the monkey bars. It’s a great way to engage muscles that don’t get much use during the workweek.
- Use the far end of the parking lot. Parking far away from a destination forces more movement and every little bit of exercise adds up.
- Do jumping jacks, or other exercises, during television commercial breaks.
- Take the long way when walking to meetings, the bathroom, or the printer at work, and always choose the stairs when given an option.
- Do chores. Raking leaves, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn are all ways to add extra movement to your days. You can also add movement to standing chores. Take laundry out of the basket one piece at a time to force yourself to bend, or lift yourself up on your toes repeatedly while cooking.
While the internal impact of sitting too much might go unnoticed, your patients probably complain about the pain and stiffness that result from spending so many hours in a chair. There are several products that can help relieve these aches and pains and undo some of the postural damage caused by downtime.
- Prescribe two minutes with a foam roller each night. Dedicating even this short amount of time to myofascial release has been shown to improve range of motion and allow nutrient-rich blood to flow into the muscles.
- Recommend spending some of the workday sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair.
- Use a Posture Pump in the clinic and retail them for at-home use to decompress and rehydrate the spine’s discs.
- Suggest your favorite Core or Chiroflow pillow to ensure spinal alignment and rejuvenation during rest.
- Have patients track their movements using a fitness tracker. Measuring how many steps they take per day will help them set realistic, measureable goals for improvement.