The strengths and weaknesses of human biomechanics are directly related to the lifestyle we lead. A healthy lifestyle leads to a strong and functional body, and vice versa. Unfortunately, the average lifestyle of an American adult is less than healthy. While this isn’t good news for anyone, it’s particularly bad news for equestrians who rely on a healthy body to enjoy their time with their horse.
Let’s look at the facts. The average American adult spends 6.5 hours a day sitting. Two of those six hours are spent in front of the television. Another half of all American adults spend at least another hour on a computer outside of their working day. Of those who use computers, one out of four will use them for at least three hours in their personal time. Research group Zenith summed up the situation, “By 2021 we expect the average consumer to spend 495 minutes a day consuming media.”
That’s almost 35 percent of our daily lives spent staring at screens. The facts show the unhealthy impact of this sedentary lifestyle, as the CDC states that Forty percent of adults over the age of 20 are considered obese.
Equestrians rely on their health and fitness to enjoy their hobby and compete successfully in the show ring. Unfortunately, it’s often necessary to work in an office setting in order to afford to own and compete a horse. So, how can you continue to make progress in your riding career while struggling with the unhealthy consequences of an American lifestyle? First, it’s important to understand exactly how a sedentary lifestyle impacts your health and fitness.
Long-Term Physical Issues
As American adults sit for longer periods of time, bones and muscles become weaker and metabolism slows to a crawl. As a result, working at a desk job is often a strong contributing factor to obesity. Not to mention, the high likelihood of sugary snacks in the break room.
According to the Sleep Foundation, another impact of a sedentary lifestyle is poor quality sleep. Thirty-five percent of Americans report less than satisfactory sleep. Sixty-seven percent of those who reported poor sleep quality also stated they had less than average health, as well as high stress, and low life satisfaction.
The longer you stay seated at a desk, the more you increase your risk of arthritis, neck strain, and chronic back pain. These physical issues are long term problems that cannot be fixed with a few hours of exercise. Instead, these require intensive physical therapy to reach the point where your human biomechanics are once again functional. Unfortunately, based on the severity of arthritis or chronic back pain, you may never return to full health.
Chronic Poor Posture
Sitting all day also negatively impacts your posture in the saddle. Human biomechanics are not designed for immobility. When working from a desk, there’s only so many positions available to you. Often, you’ll find yourself sitting in one spot for hours.
This position is dependent upon your environment. Most offices are set up with a laptop and keyboard at stomach height. This is too high for healthy wrist and elbow function, but also too low for your neck. Working at the wrong height for your wrists and neck leads to neck strain and carpal tunnel. Staring down at your computer leaves your neck at an angle for an extended period of time, straining the ligaments and soft tissue responsible for holding your head up.
Carpal tunnel is another health issue related to the office environment. Repetitive hand motions such as typing and using a computer mouse compress your median nerve over time, causing weakness, tingling, and even numbness in your hands.
Poor Mental Health
A stressful office environment and lack of exercise leads to poor mental health. High stress can be related to tight deadlines, tough bosses and issues with your coworkers. Lack of sleep can exacerbate these issues, leading to poor motivation and depression.
Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on ADHD, depression, and a variety of other mental health issues. It can even help you sleep better, relieve stress, and improve your mood. Unfortunately, when working in an office environment, you can’t reap the benefits of regular exercise.
Your Horse Needs You at Your Best
Poor health and fitness makes you a poor partner for your best friend. A body that’s used to the sedentary office lifestyle will fail you in the saddle, unless you take steps to counter those consequences. For example, good equitation takes strength to maintain, but unfortunately equestrians can’t rely on riding alone to maintain their fitness. While horseback riding requires strength, it doesn’t truly build strength in the same way as, for example, weight lifting. Combining horseback riding with a fitness plan is a great way to reach the physical health required to be a good partner to your horse. However, keep in mind that not all generic online exercise programs work for all equestrians. It’s better to work with a Doctor of Physical Therapy to develop an exercise program tailored to your specific human biomechanics.
Riding doesn’t just require physical strength– but mental strength as well. A horse with a rider who is depressed, stressed, or anxious, is likely to be spooky, reactive, and uncooperative. The combination can lead to two partners feeding off of each other’s negative energy into a downward spiral. There’s an excellent way to fix this: more time at the barn. For equestrians, time spent at the barn is a refuge from the stresses of working at the office. Horseback riding gets your body moving, which is not only essential for functional human biomechanics, but is also good for the brain. A study by the British Horse Society concluded that horseback riding reduced chances of depression and even dementia by 30 percent. In order to get the most (both physically and mentally) out of your time at the barn, it’s important to work with a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
A Doctor of Physical Therapy Can Help
Working with a DPT can help you combat the consequences of an office lifestyle and assist with creating a more ergonomic office space that fits your personal needs. A physical therapist can build a fitness plan tailored to your body, that takes into account any prior injuries or inherent biomechanical weaknesses. This exercise program strengthens weak areas of your musculoskeletal system, helping you overcome the impacts of a sedentary lifestyle.
A Doctor of Physical Therapy can also evaluate your posture and help you work towards perfect equitation. With the right prescribed exercises, you can say goodbye to neck pain and drooping shoulders. Instead, you’ll find yourself with the strength and flexibility to be the best partner you can be for your horse.