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Sitting all the time does a body no good

By on May 1, 2014

Truck drivers sit while driving  for up to 11 hours a day. Then there’s time spent sitting in the truck without driving — in truckstops and at shippers and receivers. Ultimately a driver may spend up to 15 hours of each day in one position. That can cause a series of changes in the body commonly known as “sitting disease.”

When you sit, you don’t move, and inactivity is a predictor of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. According to James Levine, MD, PhD, at the Mayo Clinic, “Every two hours spent just sitting reduces blood flow and lowers blood sugar, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.” His colleague, cardiologist Martha Grogan, has an even scarier statistic. “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking,” she says.

An American Cancer  Society study showed that women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied  than those who sat  fewer than three hours a day. Men who sat more than six hours a day were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Women and men who both sat more and were otherwise less physically active were 94 percent and 48 percent more likely, respectively, to die compared to their more active counterparts.

Joints and muscles

Staying in one position for so long takes its toll on other parts of the body. Inactivity, combined with a tendency to slump when sitting for extended periods, can actually alter normal physiological functions of the neuromuscular systems. Just think of the cramped-up feeling you get after hours of sitting, no matter how comfortable the seat. When muscles tighten, you compensate for the lack of range of motion in the way you move.

For example, the hip flexor muscles, located deep in the abdominal cavity, are used when a person lifts their knee or bends at the waist. It takes just two to four weeks for a driver’s hip flexor muscles to shorten as a result of holding the sitting position. Shortened or “tight” hip flexors pull downward on the pelvic girdle. That leads the gluteus muscles to  lengthen and weaken, decreasing their ability to hold the pelvic girdle in its proper position. Weak abdominal and back muscles also contribute to changes in the pelvic girdle which affect the position of the spine.

Similarly, endless sitting hunched over a steering wheel without any type of stretching can shorten the pectoralis major muscle of the chest and weaken the muscles of the upper back and shoulder, as well as the spine. That leads to poor posture and improper loading of the joints up and down the entire body.

Domino effect

Once this happens, nerve impulses that  activate muscle contraction are altered and reduce the muscles’ ability to generate adequate levels of force to move the joint. The body has to compensate by using other muscles not intended for the movement to add force at the joint. Then other muscles have to compensate for other muscles, in a domino effect of bodily dysfunction. Over time, the chance of a serious ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, neck or other injury increases greatly, because the body is so out of alignment.

Stretching and strength training can minimize the effects of sitting for long periods of time. Look for simple hip flexor and pectoralis major stretching exercises and get into the habit of stretching every time you get out of the truck.

As for strength training, the exercise routine illustrated above is fast, simple and effective.

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