The message that our sedentary lifestyles are shortening our lives seems to be the health scare of the decade. As mentioned on the Huffington Post, Dr James Levine summed up his research into the health effects of sitting for long periods of time: ‘Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.’
So what can do you if you have a sedentary office job? The best thing is to get up and move around regularly. Set an alarm on your computer to sound every 50 minutes, then get up, go and make a drink, walk up and down a few flights of stairs, go for a brisk walk... just get moving.
Many people with sedentary lifestyles suffer from back pain, through bad posture, pressure being put on the spinal discs from lack of movement and stretching. Exercise can help, but it's beneficial to be in the hands of an expert. The Back4Good programme at the Body Control Pilates centre in London focuses on exercises to specifically strengthen your back and manage chronic pain.
The centre, owned by Pilates guru Lynne Robinson and her husband Leigh offers to teach the ‘Pilates ABCs’ – Alignment, Breathing and Centring (Core Stability), which is the foundation of all Pilates exercise. From that point, you will learn stretches and poses designed to control your movements and improve your posture, increasing both the strength and flexibility of your back.
We talk to Lynne about her personal experience of Pilates and how managing the psychology of pain is key to physical and mental wellbeing.
When my sciatica was really bad, I was living in Australia with my husband and children and we had seven house moves in five years, so there was a lot of stress. Plus, the physicality of moving home and having to drive in a foreign country, which I found stressful, made my condition much worse.
I started going to Pilates classes which really helped to calm my anxiety. When I was in the class, I was focusing on my breathing; I was in the moment and I just couldn't worry about anything else as it takes the focus to the body.
I was learning about my body in a way I hadn’t before, as I was living in my head (I was a history teacher). I wasn’t connected at all. I decided to become a Pilates teacher and trained while my mother was undergoing treatment for leukeamia, and going to the studio every day actually kept me sane, plus my back was getting stronger – it was all linked.
I have to do a session every day now; I still put pressure on my back – picking up my two-year-old granddaughter always does it! So, at the end of the day, I do a few hip rolls and just the knowledge that I can manage any pain that arises makes it OK.
What exercises do you recommend for people working at a desk all day?
When you’re sitting down, remind youself about sitting ‘well’ – don’t go forward or back, just find your neutral position and engage your core.
You can do a version of the ‘cat pose' in your seat or the ‘dumb waiter’, you could do a side reach, keeping the weight even on both sitting bones.
It doesn’t take too much effort to do a rotation, keeping the length in the spine, without arching your back then spiralling around both ways. You could also get your feet going, just walking on the spot. At the end of the day, spend 10 minutes in the relaxation position to help decompress the spine, and relax the muscles – always use extra cushions to support where you need it.
Psychologies has teamed up with the Body Control Pilates Centre to offer you 50% off the price of your first private 1:1 session ( 1 hour) or a block of Pilates classes. Valid until 31/12/2016. To book and for further details, email firstname.lastname@example.org using code Psychologies/BCP.
Photographs: from Pilates for Life (Kyle Books, £18.99)