Avoid the seat to hell and find the chair-way to heaven
Does the thought of sitting at your desk, driving to work or going out to a dinner party have you reaching for the painkillers?
There is increasing concern about the sedentary lives we lead and that sitting for long periods of time without a break could actually be much worse for us than we think.
A recent study from the University of South Carolina found that men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV or sitting in cars had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours or less a week.
They found that sitting for long periods without regular breaks and the associated muscle inactivity appears to shut down the body’s process for clearing fat from the blood stream, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Short breaks at regular intervals were found to significantly improve the health of the sitting person. But what if you are in a situation where you just can’t take regular breaks?
Exercise balls and other ergonomically designed chairs and stools that aren’t static can make the muscles work more whilst sitting, encouraging a more balanced way of sitting, making it easier to sit for longer. However, many people will still find themselves slumping, which aside from the increased chance of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, can lead to neck and back pain and having no support at all – like on an exercise ball - could simply make things worse.
Surely then, prevention is the answer: how to use your body in a way that, no matter what kind of seat or chair you are using, your muscles are working in a balanced and coordinated way.
There is a method that has been in existence for over 100 years that works by helping you to use your body more efficiently and effectively, thereby avoiding the strains and pain of overuse or misuse of the muscles and joints.
Writer Aldous Huxley and Nobel Prize winner Sir Charles Sherrington experienced and wrote about the benefits of this method and today John Cleese, Madonna and Linford Christie are among those who have benefited from learning the Alexander Technique.
In 2008, clinical research, led by Professor Paul Little at Southampton University, found that the Alexander Technique has significant, long-term benefits for lower back pain.
"The Alexander Technique helps people to become aware of poor habits in the way that they sit and move and teaches them how to change these habits so that they can function more efficiently and with more ease", says Alexander Teacher Alan Mills, who has been teaching for the past 16 years.
"It is a sign of the times," he says, "that the majority of pupils who come for lessons are desk based, working all day on computers and the common complaints are neck, back and shoulder pain. The difficulty today is that everyone is after a quick-fix and learning the Alexander Technique takes time and practice, just like learning to play a sport or a new language. However, considering the Technique is, in some cases, about altering life long habits, some benefits can be seen in as little as three or four lessons."
In the early 1900s, the originator of the Alexander Technique, Frederick Matthias Alexander, was frequently asked about the correct type of chair to use to prevent bad habits in children. His response was to say that "We need to re-educate our children not our furniture". It would seem that, over 100 years later, his words still hold true.
With up to 80% of the population suffering from back pain at some stage of their life, at a cost of more than £1 billion annually to the NHS and between 590 and 624 million a year to employers, a method that could help us to be more productive, improve our health and reduce NHS and employers costs is surely a chair-way to heaven?
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