Never Give a Caveman a Chair
The ever increasing prevalence of pain, depression, fatigue and chronic diseases is not, as many are led to believe, the result of our bodies malfunctioning, but our modern lifestyles. Today we are constantly exposed to chemical stress in our environment and the foods we eat, postural stress, minimal physical exercise and constant mental demands.The rise in modern illness and diseases has led some health professions to explore Paleolithic nutrition and movement, as our bodies have not genetically changed significantly since that time. Human beings are genetically and physiologically wired for exceptional health and self healing. However, unlike our caveman ancestors we are now exposed to refined sugar and carbohydrates, processes foods, synthetic chemicals, cars, computers, shoes, TV’s, telephones and other hand held electronic devises.
It is true our life expectancy has gone up due to advances in modern sanitation, improved shelter and heating, availability of clean water and exceptional emergency care that considerably reduces death and disability do to injuries and infection. Yet the tide has turned, and we are now exposed to many modern stressors that have led to the exponential increase in chronic diseases.
Take a seat caveman
Although there is debate around our nutritional needs, such as suitable sources of protein, it is undisputed that as cavemen we would have constantly been on the move. Physical activity would have been a necessity in everyday life and to ensure our survival. Today, however, we have to be conscious of moving as our society discourages movement through the invention of chairs, computer, cars etc.In my office I like to show a cartoon of caveman evolving into modern man and then the spine deevolving with the invention of the computer. The cartoon shows modern man hunched over the computer. Sitting in a chair, to the spine, is like refined sugar to the teeth. It leads to the slow degradation of the spine and discs between each vertebrae. But like the teeth, kept in check, and maintained in good health the affects can be reversed, or ideally prevented.
The pandemic of spinal misalignments in modern society is due to the prevalence of sedentary living, combined with the accidents and injuries we all suffer from time to time, birth trauma, emotional stress and toxic living. Very few people move their spine throughout its full range of motion on a daily basis or train to stabilise the postural muscles that support the spine. This is largely because we spend a considerable percentage of our time sitting in chairs – from school age to working adults to the elderly.
The spinal damage that this causes is linked to a wide variety of health issues including acute and chronic spinal pain, digestive problems, neck pain and headaches, osteoarthritis, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, immune suppression and menstrual pain, just to name a few. Increasing research in the area is consistently showing that sitting in front of a computer is a large risk factor for different types of chronic disease, disability and shortened life span. The human body was designed to move around vigorously throughout much of the day. The standard working / resting position would have been a full squat or cross legged. Imagine if chiropractors recommended that we toss out our chairs and told everyone to work at their computers in a squat position! Many couldn’t do it at all and others couldn’t maintain it for long. Given this would be an impossible, and inappropriate ask, there are two things you can do to reduce the impact of sitting.
1. Have your spine checked by a corrective / wellness chiropractor and implement a spinal correction program
followed by maintenance care.
No matter how we improve our exercise habits or release muscle tension, existing specific spinal misalignments cannot be corrected by exercise or massage alone and require the skill and precision that only corrective chiropractic adjustments can provide.
2. Take frequent breaks from sitting that include stretching and strength exercises throughout the working / school
Some professionals recommend that periods of sitting be broken up by trips to the water cooler or the photocopier. While this is, of course, is better than remaining completely immobile, experience and research confirm that this is insufficient. Specific exercises such as spinal twisters, jumping jacks, running up the stairs, squats, push ups and Pilates or yoga poses must be implemented.
In order to ensure implementation, I personally alarm my watch for every 3045 minutes when I am working on a computer (including as I write this!). No matter how focused I am on the task at hand, I get up for 3 – 5 minutes and perform a series of exercises, and then resume my work. I began this habit in college and continue to this day. Not only will this benefit your spine, it will help to clear your head. For ease of implementing this in your workplace it is helpful if your colleagues are on board also. It is useful to talk with your boss and colleagues about strategies to implement changes in the workplace such as scheduled breaks, a dedicated location to stretch or regular Pilates or yoga class. By taking regular breaks to move and stimulate the nervous system and muscles in your back you can increase your energy levels during and after work, thus increasing your productivity and quality of work. Not only this, research has shown that a well aligned spine reduces the number of days off work due to back or neck pain, headaches and common colds and flu’s, as exercise stimulates the nervous system and reduces stress.
Booth et al. 2002. Waging war on physical inactivity: using modern molecular ammunition against an ancient enemy Journal of Applied Physiology 83: 3 – 30. Chestnut, J. 2011. The Wellness & Prevention Paradigm.