What all the sitting is doing to your body

Coach Arvind
October 06,2022

This is the article I wish I had read when I hit 30.

At that time, I’d been working for 10+ years and many more years of office life seemed inevitable. Weekdays were mostly spent at work. More specifically, they were spent in my chair staring at my laptop. The little time outside of work involved more sitting down during the commute to and from work and then at home. Weekends were slightly better as I made it a point to go outdoors, so some walking was involved and the odd game of badminton, but other than that even the weekends seemed to be spent on a couch.

It was wrecking my body. I just didn’t know it at that time.

It’s only as the pain and injuries started to show up in the following years that it became clear that there was a real problem and if I did not deal with it, more pain was to come. I soon discovered that this was true for most adults that I knew. Many had a problem with one or more areas of their body. It could be the shoulder that acts up sometimes (or when it’s cold), or the knee you need to be careful about, the crick in your neck, or the lower back that’s stiff for a while after you wake up.

I’m hoping that I can spare you a lot of this pain.

I also discovered two things through all of this:

Discovery 1: The problem usually occurred in a joint

What are joints? These:

  • Neck.
  • Shoulders.
  • Wrist.
  • Elbow.
  • Lower back.
  • Knee.
  • Ankle.

Discovery 2: The injuries usually happen when you least expect it

The injury or pain doesn’t show up in the middle of exercise, but usually when you’re doing something that seems harmless. Like lifting a suitcase, or reaching overhead to put something in your loft or picking something up from the floor.

What is going on here?

The problem itself is a simple one.

We’re sitting almost all the time. And not moving much.

The more important question is…

What is it doing to our body?

A lot apparently. It’s surprising how much change happens in your body when you do absolutely nothing (or too little) with it.

Outcome 1: Your body ‘forgets’ how to move

Your body, especially your joints are meant to move in a certain way. For example, the shoulder — you should be able to move it in all directions: in front, behind you, across your body, overhead and down. This is what is referred to as the ‘range of motion’ of the shoulder.

All of your joints are meant to move in a certain range. If we don’t keep moving it in that range, we lose that natural range with time. The shoulder is a good example. We’ve seen that it can move in a very wide range.

Many of us will go days or even weeks without reaching our arms overhead or behind our backs. When we do, we will inevitably end up feeling tightness or pain around the shoulders.

Simply put, think about the shoulder here being ‘tight’. We need to loosen it up and remind it of its full natural range of motion.

Outcome 2: Your body becomes weak

When you don’t use your muscles, they waste away. Muscle weakness can be sneaky. It won’t show up overnight. It will happen gradually and will make once-simple tasks a little harder. For example, having to rock back and forth to get out of a chair or tug a few times on the car door to open it.

Being overweight makes all of this worse. There is increased load on your joints, especially the back, knees and ankle. There are plenty of reasons to get to a healthy weight, but this an important one and a reason that does not get enough attention. Once you get to a healthy weight, you’ll find that your joints feel a lot better, you’re lighter on your feet and you can move freely and for longer. We see this time and time again in our coaching programme and it’s a game-changer for most people.

Is this true for you? Here’s 2 tests you can do right now to find out.

Here’s 2 simple tests that you can use to check what condition your body is in.

Test 1: Can you touch your toes?

A ‘toe touch’ is where you’re standing, then bend at the hip without bending your knees, and try to touch your toes. This is what a toe touch should look like.

I could not touch my toes 2 years ago. I wasn’t even close. I would bend over and reach with my hands, but my toes and the floor seemed far away.

Go on. Try touching your toes. Can you?

Test 2: Can you do a full squat?

If you spend any time in rural India, you’ll see this a lot.

Photo by Chandra Mukhi on Flickr

This is what I mean by a full squat. Before western closets were invented, we were forced into this position at least once a day. But not anymore.

Go on. Can you do a full squat?

If you could do both tests comfortably, you’re in a good place. If you could not do either or both tests or felt uncomfortable doing them, read on.

While it is tempting to point a finger at office jobs and all the gadgets around us, the real issue is a lack of frequent movement. In order to make positive changes to our body, we need to frequently move it through varied, full ranges of motion. We think of food as a way to nourish our body. Similarly, think of movement as a way to nourish your bones, muscles and joints.

Now I know that some of you may be thinking that at this stage in life you will not be able to fix these problems.


I started fixing this when I was 40.
Two years later, I feel fitter than ever before.

From not being able to touch my toes 2 years ago (either while standing or sitting down), this is what progress looks like.

Where can you start?

Like most people with a job and family, I just cannot make the time to commute to a gym often enough. I’ve tried, many times. So I do my workouts at home using some online tools (I’ve provided a few links at the end of this article that will help you get started). I focus on my joints for 2 hrs a week. You can split this time any way you like, pick what works for you. For me this is 3 sessions of 40mins each a week.

I have no plans of stopping. It’s been a game-changer.

2 hrs a week is 18-minutes a day. Surely you can spare 18-minutes a day?

That might seem too little, but you will be surprised how small doses of frequent exercise can add up to a lot.

There are many methods you can use here. I’d like to talk about what’s most accessible to everyone and something you can use to get started, now. To get started, I’d suggest this.

Do a 20-minute movement routine every morning

Movement is the most important habit you can start your day with. It will:

  • Help you feel energized.
  • Set the tone for the day ahead.
  • You’ll be less distracted (so do it before checking email, news or social media).

Here are some options for the morning movement routine:

Option 1: Warm-up + Flexibility routine

5-min warm up (this could be just running in place, jump rope, jumping jacks — anything that gets the blood flowing).

This beginner flexibility routine (takes about 15 mins).

If you find that you are comfortable with the above, you can advance to this full body flexibility routine (about 20 mins).

Option 2: Surya Namaskar

A movement like the Surya Namaskar done in the morning works very well. The movement works all your major muscles and joints, gets the blood flowing to your ligaments and tendons and moves your joints through their range of motion. It ‘limbers’ up the whole body.

See this video for how to do the Surya Namaskar correctly.

Yoga in general is excellent for stretching. It also focuses on breathing, which has a calming effect.

Option 3: Rajio Taiso

In Japan, there is a practice known as rajio taisō (radio calisthenics) that has been around for almost a century. It’s a short circuit of stretches, joint mobility drills, and body-weight exercises. Even today, about 20% of the Japanese population still does the daily routine, which has remained unchanged for almost a century. It’s no surprise that Japan has an enviable record when it comes to people living long healthy lives. Obviously it’s not because of this one thing alone but I am sure it helps build a culture of movement.

See the below for a 2-part video.

Makes for fun viewing and you can just follow along. Even if this is not for you, you’ll get an idea of the movements involved.

Focus on your weakness

If you already know your weak or tight areas, spend more time focusing on them.

We all love to do more of what we’re good at. In this case, park your ego, find your weakness and go after it.

Some important points to remember as you try these out:

  • Start slowly and increase the intensity gradually.
  • If you feel pain, stop.
  • Move smoothly with no sudden movements or jerks.
  • Don’t forget to breathe throughout.
  • Be patient. Progress will be slow as you’re trying to undo decades of inactivity. But if you keep up the effort, you should start seeing visible improvements in 3 months.

Just get started

Getting in good shape is more than having big biceps and six-pack abs. For most adults, the goal is simply to restore your natural range of motion so that you can move freely and without pain.

Moving regularly not only helps reduce pain and stiffness due to inactivity, but it also makes you stronger. Making such small changes and additions to your life will bring about big changes in the long run. Setting aside a few minutes a day can save you years of painfully tight joints. Don’t wait.

I’m living proof you can do it, at any age.

About the Author

Coach Arvind
Arvind is a qualified Personal Trainer, SFG-certified Kettlebell Instructor and a Nutrition Coach. Arvind knows that there is no one-size-fits all answer and is focused on helping people find the solutions that work for them. He frowns at fad diets as they do more harm than good.

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