Staying home amid COVID-19 pandemic is making us more sedentary than ever. These days, we may be sitting in our home offices or working from the dinner table or sitting in front of TV for hours on end. While we do our part staying at home to protect our community and frontline health workers, it’s equally important to keep ourselves healthy in order to reduce the need to visit clinics and/or hospitals.

There are many side effects from prolonged sitting, they include:

1. Back pain
• Prolonged sitting can lead to tight muscles in the neck, shoulders, and all areas of the back, leading to muscle spasms and pain. You might remember feeling stiff and sore from a long car ride. Stretching is the best way to prevent back pain. Unless you are ambidextrous and using both sides of your body equally, you can anticipate an imbalance of shoulder and back muscles. When one side is significantly more active than the other, pain appears. Stretching can help to re-balance muscle tension, redistributing stress points, thereby reducing the onset of focal inflammation and spasms.

2. Joint pain
• In a prolonged fixed posture such as sitting, fluids and blood in the joint capsules are trapped; debris build up around and inside the capsules, and nutrients cannot enter the areas to renew and repair worn down structures. In other words, prolonged sitting can lead to stagnation in the joints, accelerating degradation of joints. If you’ve had acupuncture, you might able to comprehend this: lack of movement creates Qi (energy flow) and blood stagnations, which harm the liver that regenerates new blood and protects the sinews (ligaments, tendons).

3. Varicose veins (aka spider veins)
• While sitting, our skeletal muscles are inactive. We rely on those major muscles to keep our circulatory system going. Like the case of joint pain, blood stasis can happen in veins. When valves in veins are compromised and there’s no force to push the blood back to the heart (as in the case of inactive skeletal muscles), the venous wall becomes balloon-like where blood pools and swells the vein, giving the irreversible feature of varicose veins, visible just under the skin.

4. Deep vein thrombosis
• Aside from aesthetic concerns of varicose veins, they can also increase the risk of other health issues such as skin damage, infections, and ulcers, and more severely, leg clots, aka deep vein thrombosis. Large blood clots can form inside large veins sitting deep inside our legs and arms, and lack of activity as in the case of prolonged sitting, sets the stage for blood clot formation. A piece of that blood clot can break away from its base and travel to the lungs and even the brain, causing pulmonary embolism and stroke, respectively.

Self Isolation - Stretching

More important than ever as I had mentioned in the beginning of this article, if you have been sitting for at least an hour, find an excuse to stretch out those legs – maybe go and refill your  tea cup, take a bathroom break, or simply peel your eyes off the screen for a bit and stretch your neck and shoulders. Then, at the end of each day, do a full stretch. Do what feels most comfortable to you. If you are up for a routine, then I invite you to join me on a 7-day stretch challenge. You can also follow YMCA yoga instructor along in your practice. Visit virtual YMCA.

Stay well and connected!

Dr. Kait Chang, ND

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