Updated: Jan 28
One in four Americans sit down for more than 8 hours per day. According to this study, those who spend more than 6 hours per day sitting with low levels of physical activity the rest of the time, have a 71 percent increase in mortality rate. This has led some researchers to make the claim that ‘sitting is the new smoking’.
Aside from increasing our mortality rate, sitting all day is also causing 31 million of us to experience constant back pain. It’s time to get moving!
In this article we’re going to cover what happens to your body when you sit down all day, and the best exercises for low back pain, so that you can alleviate your pain, get moving, and improve your health hassle-free.
3 things that happen when you sit down all day
86 percent of Americans have desk jobs that involve sitting all day. It’s not surprising that low back pain is one of the most common health conditions in the US: we’re sedentary, and hunched over our laptop for hours on end.
Numerous studies have been conducted as an attempt to understand the effects of sitting all day (a sedentary lifestyle). Here’s the summary of what they found.
1. Your risk of heart disease and certain cancers increase
According to the National Cancer Institute, those who spend eight or more hours per day sitting have up to a 66 percent higher risk of developing cancer compared to those who are more active. Sitting increases your blood pressure and decreases the diameter of your arteries, which increases the likelihood of developing heart disease.
2. You gain weight
A large scale study with 800,000 people in England found that those who sat the most had a 112 percent increase in the relative risk of developing diabetes. It slows your metabolism and decreases the activity of lipoprotein lipase which helps us to burn fat. While this doesn’t automatically lead to weight gain, it makes it a lot easier.
3. You become less mobile
Sitting all day causes your gluteal muscles to switch off and tighten up which has a knock on effect for our quads, hip abductors and quads. When your lower body is tight, your back and knees are under more pressure because the glutes are responsible for stabilizing your entire body.
Having poor posture whilst sitting can often also cause back pain, your shoulders and neck are tense and often curled over a laptop. This position causes excessive pressure on the muscles, joints and discs causing chronic pain in serious cases.
How to alleviate back pain
For most of us, sitting is unavoidable - we work in offices at desks and we drive to and from work, which eats up the majority of our time. But it’s important to try and counteract the sedentary part of your time with activity. Even a 30 minute session a day will decrease blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, improve heart health, improve posture and loosen up your tight muscles.
1. Regular strength training
When you regularly workout with weights, you are building strength in your muscles and joints, improving any muscular imbalances that may have been caused from prolonged sitting, the two most common causes of back pain.
A study by Welch et al looked at the effects of a 16 week resistance training routine on patients with chronic lower back pain. Interestingly, the workout program was not modified to avoid working the back, and included exercises that are commonly recommended against if you have back pain, like heavy compounds like squats, deadlifts and lunges.
Surprisingly, these participants were able to achieve a 72% decrease in low back pain, 76% improvement in disability measurements and an improved quality of life score. This is because compound exercises recruit and strengthen the paraspinal muscles, while helping to restore core stability.
Another study, this time a randomized controlled trial, observed the effects of an 8 week deadlift program on markers of low back pain. The researchers discovered that the intervention helped the participants achieve a significant reduction in low back pain intensity and also an increase in endurance, mobility, and fitness levels.
Your spine gets tight when you’re sitting all day. Yoga involves performing a series of poses that aim to improve flexibility and balance, whilst strengthening your muscles. This light, low-impact exercise is combined with breathing techniques to enhance the stretch and restore calm, making it an ideal exercise for beginners or those with severe back pain.
Yoga supports a healthy spine, by stretching it out, releasing tension and realigning your muscles to stabilize your vertebrae.
A 2017 study examined whether yoga can help alleviate moderate to severe low back pain. In 320 participants with chronic low back pain, those who were assigned to the yoga group found that after 12 weeks, they improved their physical function and drastically reduced pain.
Another 2013 study found that yoga is particularly beneficial for older adults with chronic pain who may be more stiff and less suitable for heavy lifting.
If you are struggling with severe back pain, it’s absolutely essential that you take extra care when starting a workout routine. Your back may be tender and at risk of injury due to the prolonged sitting or lack of physical exercise. In fact, if you are constantly suffering with pain, rehabilitation should be the first point of call.
Rehabilitation may involve sessions with a physiotherapist or manual care. The 3L Fit Deluxe Ball Set includes a Spiky Ball and Double Roller - both created by fitness and mobility experts on a mission to help people alleviate back pain caused by our modern lifestyles.
Performing rehabilitation exercises regularly will make a profound difference, and also enhance the effects of strength training and/or yoga.
The best exercises for back pain
We’ve covered the different types of exercises you can do to alleviate back pain, but if you’re looking for some specifics - we’ve got you covered!
Squats = From standing, lower your butt until it’s at a 90 degree angle with your knees, keeping your upper body in an upright position. By lengthening and stretching the hip flexors into a squat you are correcting the alignment of the pelvis and relieving compression of the spine.
Overhead press = In a standing or seated position, contract your core and lift a weight (dumbbells or barbell) overhead, with elbows out wide. Building muscle in your upper body will help to improve posture and correct any tightness.
Double Roller release = Laying on your back with the Double Roller underneath you, roll up and down. It may be painful, but it is rolling out the knots and releasing trigger points that are causing your sharp low back pain. This is a type of myofascial release - click here to learn more about this *Back Release- T Spine*.
Spinal extension = Lay flat on your stomach and slowly lift your upper body off the ground with your back muscles, without touching the floor. This helps to undo the hunchback effect.
Seated spinal twist = Sit on the floor or chair and turn your torso to one side, without moving your lower body, reach an arm behind you in the direction you're moving for stability and an extra twist. This opens up your spine.