Sitting on a chair may seem like a nice, comfortable way to get through the day, but our spines tend to disagree.
No matter how comfortable one is in an office chair, prolonged static posture is not good for the back and is a common contributor to poor spinal health, as well as other health conditions, according to Preventure Chief Executive Officer and Founder Scott Coleman.
Perfecting posture and movement breaks
“Eight-plus hours sitting at a desk is bad for general health and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and general muscle deconditioning,” Mr Coleman said.
“When it comes to spinal health, it all depends on the person’s posture when sitting.
“Postures that require a high level of effort to hold the head or body in position can increase the risk of muscle overload and neck or back pain.”
Mr Coleman said there was no one size fits all when it came down to what was considered the right way to sit, and the traditional good posture – characterised by an upright position of the trunk with the head positioned over the vertebrae of the neck – could be bad for some people.
“Finding the most efficient posture for an individual involves finding a position that suits their body shape, strengths and weaknesses to reduce the risk of neck or back pain,” he said.
“The key to maintaining better spinal health is about keeping track of how long you spend in one position."
“The next posture is the best posture, so regular movement is essential.”
Mr Coleman said the primary focus for office workers should be that they don’t spend more than 40 minutes sitting in one position.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Preventure – a company that focuses on workplace injury prevention – tested the posture of its staff with the help of sensors to increase awareness and encourage change.
“Many of the Preventure team members developed neck and back pain after transitioning to working from home,” Mr Coleman said.
“We decided that a simple sensor positioned on the upper back over the collar could be used to measure posture and movement throughout the day.
“The sensor is connected to a smartphone app, which provides slouch alerts when the worker slouches, prompting them to change their body position.
“There are also stretch alerts when the worker has a sustained posture for more than 40 minutes, encouraging them to stand up, stretch or go for a brief walk.
“Using technology to measure their movements and using the data to demonstrate exactly what their individual back and neck pain risk is, means they are more likely to learn and be motivated to change their behaviour.”
Best Body Chief Executive Officer and Founder Scott Wescombe said our bodies were designed to move and we needed a consistent variety of movement every day.
“We want to avoid that robotic lifestyle and introduce a little bit more bending – all the way forwards, bending back, going side to side, turning your body around and doing some rotations,” he said.
Mr Wescombe said there was more than just poor posture that influenced how your body felt.
“Sleep is critical and sometimes when you work in an office, you don’t get that movement and exercise,” he said.
“It can increase stress, which can affect sleep, the way your body feels and how it recovers.
“Stress releases a lot of hormones and the hormones are like the pilots of our brain and can change the way we work, as well as the way our body works.
“Staying well hydrated helps our body and mind stay healthy.
“In terms of your spine, if you’re not well hydrated, you’re more likely to experience pain.
“Getting some good nutrition in and less sugar will also lead to a happier spine, and a happier body and mind overall.”
Power of our mind
Mr Wescombe had a holistic approach when it came to other contributing factors to spinal health.
He said having a sense of purpose in life and believing the future was going to be better than what it was today helped to maintain good spinal health.
“Generally when there is a lack of purpose, we experience more stress, we don’t move, eat or sleep, so it’s really important to have that strong sense of purpose,” Mr Wescombe said.
“Another one is feeling a sense of belonging – if someone feels lonely, there’s an increased likelihood they will have spinal issues.
“In the workplace, it’s really important to have a best buddy at work.”
Mr Wescombe said our minds were so powerful that even just believing we had a spinal issue could actually lead to a real spinal issue.
“If you believe your spine is fragile, generally you move like your spine is fragile and you tiptoe around and brace a lot more,” he said.
“Just that belief itself changes the way your body works.
“The beliefs we have about our body and the world, all influence how our bodies work at a cellular level and influence our spine.”
Health is wealth
Mr Wescombe said although people were aware that health should be the number one priority, the way they went about their lives said otherwise.
“People don’t realise their spine would be a lot healthier by having those movement breaks and that they will get more energy, the mind will work a lot better, they will get better work done in a specific timeframe and they will be more productive,” he said.
“It’s that use it or lose it principle – if our body is not healthy, it’s hard for our mind to be healthy and that’s hard for us to do our best work.”