Current research demonstrates that sedentary work and lifestyle behaviours has a profoundly negative affect on our health status; the message is loud and clear - sitting in your office chair may now be seen as a high risk activity. While sedentary workers are not exposed to hazards associated with more physically demanding occupations, they are exposed to an increased risk of lifestyle diseases (for example, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer to name a few), and musculoskeletal conditions, such as neck and low back pain, and in particular, arthritis. This is due, in part, to the prolonged and uninterrupted sedentary behaviour of which typically comes with a "desk" job. Couple this with poor dietary choices and stress, you may see these unwanted conditions emerge sooner rather than later. There is, however, one very simple action you can put into place to reduce your risk of developing lifestyle and musculoskeletal conditions, such as arthritis. But first, what is arthritis?
Arthritis is a prevalent musculoskeletal condition with 1 in 6 Australians having some form of Arthritis. While there are over 100 different types of arthritis, each type affects our joints in one way or another. In particular, osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis, and can be described as a wearing or degeneration of the articular cartilage accompanied by pain, swelling and reduced mobility. The cause of arthritis is complicated and still not fully understood, however, one of the biggest contributors to the development of arthritis, especially OA, is physical inactivity.
To understand why it is important to reduce our physical inactivity and break up sedentary work and lifestyle habits, you need to be aware of how cartilage stays healthy; this is a very simplistic way to explain it, and it's not the whole story but it's pretty close. Cartilage is free from both blood vessels (a-vascular) and nerves (a-neural), meaning it doesn't have a nutrition or waste removal service. Instead, it relies on the movement of water in and out of it to feed and keep it clean. In this sense, cartilage is like a sponge as it "soaks" up what it needs. Water is constantly being drawn into cartilage by huge amounts of molecules called Proteoglycans within it, and water is then squeezed out by the forces it experiences during movement and loading. The movement of water is essential for cartilage nutrition and removal of waste products. Thus, too little movement of water makes for a very unhappy sponge!
Movement and load keeps our joints well lubricated thus healthy. Our cartilage and other tissues in our joints are well nourished when water (i.e. synovial fluid) is routinely pumped around. What happens when we sit or stand still for long periods is the fluid becomes "stagnated", and the mechanical pump action in our joints isn't triggered, thus the fluid that keeps our joints and cartilage lubricated is reduced. It's imperative that cartilage is kept lubricated to ensure it remains robust through time (i.e. aging), smooth and slippery to allow for smooth and pain free movement. This where 'reduce and interrupt' comes into action. Reduce and interrupt your sedentary behaviour at work and at home often so you keep your joints healthy and happy. Every hour, stand up and move around to load your joints and pump the synovial fluid around you joints. Take a brief walk, or walk the long way to the toilet, or walk the stairs once, or as little as 10 squats at your desk is enough to break up the sedentary behaviour to save your joints. And remember, reducing and interrupting your sedentary behaviour is not only going to reduce the risk of developing OA, but it will also reduce your risk of developing other lifestyle diseases.