For many of you who are reading this post, you’re probably doing so while sitting in a chair.
And although the simple act of sitting in a chair may seem like a normal and comfortable thing to do, an evolutionary perspective would say that sitting in a chair is actually quite unusual.
In the book “The Story of The Human Body,” Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman says that the act of sitting in a chair is not something our bodies are meant to do for long periods of time.
According to Lieberman, a common problem caused by sitting in a chair for hours at a time is your muscles start to atrophy, especially in the core muscles of the back and abdomen.
This is because when you’re sitting, you’re not using any of your leg muscles to support your weight. And if the chair you’re sitting in has a backrest, a headrest, and armrests, you may not be using as many muscles in your upper body either.
This is why chairs are so comfortable. It’s because your muscles aren’t being used. But there’s a price for such comfort.
As a result, Lieberman says,
“Your muscles will start to deteriorate in response to prolonged periods of inactivity by losing muscle fibers, especially the slow twitch fibers that provide endurance. Months and years of sitting with poor posture in comfortable chairs combined with other sedentary habits therefore allow trunk and abdominal muscles to be weak and to fatigue rapidly.”
This is why depending on where you live and what you do for work, your chances of getting lower back pain are between 60 and 90 percent.
If you look at less developed countries for example, you’ll see that lower back pain is twice as high in developed countries compared to less developed countries.
If you go further into it and you look at low income countries, you’ll see that lower back pain is twice as high in urban areas compared to rural areas.
Studies show that the general trend is that people who participate in doing “back breaking” work get fewer back injuries than those who sit in chairs for hours at a time.
It shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a correlation between how often you use your back and how healthy it is. Typically, a healthy back doesn’t usually get comforted by comfy chairs for long periods of time, and is instead used with moderate intensity throughout the day.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop sitting in your comfortable chair. I’m surely not. But what Lieberman suggests you definitely do is stretch.
“Fortunately, stretching effectively increases muscle length and flexibility, making it a good idea for anyone spending long hours in a chair to get up and stretch regularly.”
For this reason, whenever I’m reading a book, I tend to do it while lying down and then occasionally getting up to stretch my muscles.