Sitting Wrecks Your Body
Want to undo the damage of your desk job in 10 minutes?
Sink into a chair, and before long, the chair sinks into you.
Maxwell calls the technique “vestibular reset,” after the internal gyroscope we all have in our inner ears. Sit too long, and your vestibular system gets out of whack. You lose your sense of where your body is in relation to the ground; that’s when the fuse starts sizzling toward an injury. And why?
“Because everyone slumps in their own way,” Maxwell explains one afternoon. We’re in the shed behind the house where I work. He’s assessing the way I typically sprawl in my desk chair. “It’s not just the fact that you’re sitting that causes problems. When you stand up, the way you slump—the way your back has molded around the chair—is going to affect the way you move.” The constant slump is going to throw off both your posture and your posture awareness. The inner ear will adapt to the new coordinates so that when you are hunched over, you will feel like you are ramrod straight. You won’t even know when you are off-center.
Awful will become the new normal.
“Even people who work out still end up sitting more than they move each day,” Maxwell points out. “And your body adapts to what you do most.”
Maxwell has a remedy: his own version of the vestibular reset, which he’s designed as an equally effective but less dizzying way to follow in the whirling footsteps of the dervishes and reboot healthy movement patterns. All you need is about 10 minutes a few times a week to put yourself through the same balance initiation you went through as a baby. The results, Maxwell promises, will blow your mind. He knows—he’s his own best customer.
“I carried chronic tension and pain in my mid-back for years,” he says. “Mobility and breath tension-release exercises never got rid of it. After a couple weeks of ‘baby training,’ my back has never been this tension-free. The exercises are as simple or complicated as you want to make them. They can be really easy or so challenging that even a high-level athlete would find it difficult.”
First, Maxwell wants to measure the damage. Stiffening isn’t just another part of aging, he points out; it’s a death sentence. You’re nearly seven times more likely to die within the next six years(!) if you need both hands and knees to get up from the floor. We’re creatures of mobility, so when we give up our ability to move, we’re signaling our body that it’s time to shut down. Luckily, the damage can be reversed if it’s caught in time. So Maxwell has me get out of the chair and step up against the wall. My head juts out a good four inches, and my arms torque inward as if I were still reaching for a keyboard.
Are you sitting too much? Take the test!
Try this 10 min set of exercises to reset your body.