Health and Fitness professionals and activists are now referring to sitting as the new smoking. What does that imply for those of us whose physical activity of choice is cycling? Quite a paradox isn’t it – the gain to our fitness and health from cycling can come to a potential problem or cost to our fitness and health – simply because we are sitting. Seem a bit exaggerated? Lets take a look…
Research is now telling us we Westerners are now sitting more than ever before. This dramatic change in our behaviour has come as a result of how we now ‘work, rest, and play’. The cost to our health is on the debit side of the balance sheet, with sitting linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and considerable movement dysfunction. This shift has occurred so abruptly within the way we now live; that simply riding a bike regularly and at times intensely does not make you immune from fitness and health issues relating to sitting – potentially the time riding will be feeding into problems already arising from the time you spend sitting. If so this would have significant ramifications to cycling performance and sustainability; as well as on our general well-being and health.
From what the research is indicating so far, the effect of exercising daily around many hours a day sitting (i.e. work; car; TV etc) is somewhat like supporting your exercise regime with a ‘junk-food’ diet or smoking. Sitting, it would seem, acts like a switch to effectively shut down your body. This ‘shut down’ occurs at a metabolic level, and as a consequence, our health and fitness immediately becomes compromised. Fitness adaptation to training (increased aerobic capacity; power); body weight control; and general feelings of vitality immediately come to mind as to being impaired whilst sitting.
But what about those pro cyclist’s that (or so we are told) are almost paranoid about doing anything on their legs when not cycling? Well assuming this is true – that pro cyclists just sit or lie horizontal between training rides – does not necessarily mean it is the best way to recover. Apparently when Tim Kerrison (Team Sky High Performance Guru) started his role at Team Sky he was immediately struck as to why riders did not ‘warm-down’ immediately following races. Consequently Team Sky soon had their riders ‘warming-down’ on indoor trainers for 20minutes immediately following races – with stretching and massage to follow. Two Tour de France victories later all pro teams have adopted the same smart practice as Sky!
Sitting also seriously compromises the integrity of ones own posture –thus sitting is somewhat of a disaster for us not only at a metabolic level, but also muscular-skeletal. I think anybody who has ridden a bike can relate to the immediate relief that comes when getting off the bike following a ride. The unnatural ‘lock-down’ position comes at a cost, a cost that can be not only painful in the moment, but something that can cause further ongoing discomfort and pain into the long-term. Neck and back pain immediately come to mind as common complaints coming from cyclists.
Given what we now know about the issues relating to sitting, I think it is important we try and be pro-active in offsetting the problems identified above. Simply making extra efforts to stand, walk, and stretch on a daily basis will immediately be favourable to not only ones health but cycling performance. Cycling is a wonderful physical activity, but like all physical activities that are worthwhile, has inherent ‘dangers’. Doesn’t mean we immediately stop our participation, rather stop and consider what we can do to allow ourselves to continue to enjoy all the benefits that come with the activity. This article is nothing more than an effort to increase awareness to a 21st century dilemma confronting us all – we are now living from our seats.