Stand up if you sit down too much

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The working year is now in full swing – gone are the summer holidays filled with long walks, backyard cricket and swimming at the beach. We’re now at our desks and computer screens resulting in hours of sitting, slouching and stillness.

Australians are internationally applauded for a love of the laid-back lifestyle and viewed from afar as masters of the work-life balance. But did you know the average Aussie spends 1855 hours per year at work which The Australia Institute believes is the highest number of hours in the developed world?

With so many of us chained to the chair and staring at screens for most of the day it’s unsettling to learn the possible health ramifications of this ‘sedentary schedule’.

Is sitting down a health hazard?

Is sitting down a health hazard?

Perhaps the least surprising consequence was found in a study revealing sitting down as the culprit of headaches and back, neck, shoulder and arm pain.

More concerning is the fact that staying idle can also put us at risk of death from heart disease. In New Zealand, researchers discovered sitting at a computer for hours on end can cause fatal blood clots, just as long flights can lead to deep vein thrombosis. (Apparently they discovered the link when a 32-year-old man who sat at his computer terminal for up to 18 hours a day nearly died). 

It’s easy to assume going to the gym, running and participating in team sports before or after work will reverse the potential risks of a sedentary desk schedule – however they remain even if we exercise regularly.

According to Sydney-based personal trainer and life coach Rob Derbyshire, many of the aches and pains ‘desk devotees’ suffer from are caused by posture problems.

Poor posture is likely to be brought on by tight muscles (mainly the quads, hip flexors and abdominals (prolonged sitting is again responsible) and weak/lengthened muscles (such as the glutes, deep core muscles, and upper back including rhomboids & lower traps), which are relaxed whilst sitting and not regularly contracted to defy gravity.

As with any condition, prevention is better than cure, so to prevent postural problems it is important to possess a good amount of functional strength, flexibility and stability – and importantly core strength.

Here are Rob’s simple strategies to combat poor posture and move more at work:

  • Sitting on a fit ball 50% of the time
  • Stretching & moving around regularly throughout the working day – take the stairs, make a cup of tea or simply wander to colleague’s desk to say G’day
  • Setting up your desk to the correct ergonomic specs
  • Embarking on a posture improving exercise plan, like yoga, Pilates or a class run by a skilled personal trainer
  • Avoiding exercise that is contra-indicative to good posture such as, lots of sit ups and activities that repeatedly perform the same movement
  • Indulging in a massage or learn some SMFR (Self Myofascial Release) techniques

You’re probably sitting down at your desk right now…so get up, move and make 2010 the year you take your work health standing up, not sitting down!

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Paging Dr iPad?

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In true Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) fashion, the iPad launched last week with a bang. Apple’s slick answer to the tablet computer is essentially a bigger and better iPod Touch – sitting somewhere between smartphones and small computers.

Even before the gadget has hit Australian shores, speculation about the iPad has thundered through the community. Not surprisingly, it has also made noise in the medical area – after all, many healthcare professionals already use the iPhone and about 3,100 (granted, US-centric) health apps are already in existence. This week, 6minutes published an interesting article on the iPad’s potential role in medicine, which has already attracted mixed reviews of the device from local medics.

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad - Cube blog post

So, is it time to tout this new device as ‘iDoc’?

The reviews have certainly been mixed. While some suggest the iPad is what doctors have been dreaming of since the PC revolution began, others say the iPad is not ready for healthcare.

To focus on one area, many have discussed the iPad’s potential in the hospital setting. Will it help doctors with ward rounds – gathering and sharing patient information, as well as its use as a patient education tool? Features like portability, a high-definition colour touch screen, multimedia content and wireless connectivity may certainly help. However, critics list a plethora of reasons why the iPad has no place in the hospital. It’s inability to multitask or take a photo and lack of a USB port and Flash support.

Local physicians offer mixed reviews. Sydney General Practitioner Dr Raymond Seidler says that for a GP who likes gadgets, the sleek and stylish iPad has everything he wants. Both he and his 12-year-old daughter are eagerly awaiting the iPad – but for different reasons.

Dr Seidler’s daughter is looking forward to watching movies, checking her Facebook and downloading first-run books to take to school, without adding to the 15 kg to her backpack. While Dr Seidler will be able to check e-mail, YouTube and listen to podcasts from his favourite online sites, the BBC or the New Yorker.

Medical textbooks like Harrison’s online will be a click away and the large screen does away with my need for spectacles, which are necessary when I’m squinting at my tiny iPhone, he said.

Professor Jeff Szer, a Melbourne-based haematologist, agrees that technology like the iPhone/iPod Touch have a role to play in medicine. Professor Szer’s perspective on the iPad, however, is that the gadget is unlikely to change the face of how medicine is practiced.

This device has been preceded by a decade of tablet devices, none of which has found anything but niche uses in some health-related areas. I do not expect the iPad to be a game-changer.

While Professor Szer believes that “connectedness” is important for information exchange and communication in medicine, he will not rush out to buy an iPad.

A recent survey by Software Advice showed that while healthcare professionals welcome tablet computers and iPhones, this does not mean the iPad is the solution, as it lacks a number of fundamental features necessary in the healthcare field. 

The iPad certainly has its supporters and critics – but will it affect how medicine is practiced in Australia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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