Learn how to avoid these health risks of sitting all day at work. These tips will help you avoid a sedentary lifestyle and get more active throughout the day at work.
Being inactive can be one of your biggest health risks. If you live a sedentary lifestyle your chances of developing certain chronic health conditions are elevated. But, the less you sit at a desk or computer all day or engage in other sedentary behaviors (Netflix comes to mind), the greater your chance of living a healthier and happier life.
It’s normal for those of us working a full-time job to work in settings where sitting is the norm. You may have an office or cubicle, a desk, and a chair. The expectation of most workplaces is that you put in your eight hours per day from your workstation. This means you are probably doing a lot of sitting. And while you may be “comfortable” at work, the mere fact that you are sitting for long periods of time – without any form of movement – may be one of the biggest health risks you’re currently facing. Yes, being at work sitting all day – possibly up to 40 hours per week or more in some cases – could be costing your health.
And work is not the only place we sit. After all, sitting is a built-in part of our socialization. When we gather for meals, study, or travel we generally do so sitting. But despite this, nowadays the amount of sitting we are doing is spiraling out of control. In fact, the average person who works in an office may be sitting up to 15 hours a day.
Most Common Health Risks of Sitting All Day
Sitting for extended periods of time has long been linked to health issues like back pain, neck pain, weakened muscles, and more. But as we continue to look at the effects of sitting, researchers are discovering that sitting goes much deeper, causing a number of other serious health concerns. Spending too many hours sitting can affect:
- blood sugar levels and risk for type 2 diabetes
- weight, leading to overweight or obesity
- risk of heart disease
- risk of cancer
- cholesterol levels
- metabolic syndrome
A study found that women over age 40 reporting more hours sitting per day had increased markers of insulin resistance and inflammation. This indicates there is a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This was true whether or not they got moderate exercise each day.
Sitting at a desk all day at work is only one version of excessive sitting. Other types of sitting may include extended periods of time watching television, gaming, or working in other positions where you are sedentary for a long stretch of time. These forms of sedentary behavior have been shown to double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event.
Workers Most at Risk of Sitting All Day at Work
You may think of the typical office worker as the main sitting victim. But there are many others who are at high risk for excessive sitting. Some include:
- Administrative assistants
- Remote or Tele-workers
- Customer support workers
- Graphic designers
- IT professionals
- Writers, Editors, and Proofreaders
- Counselors or Therapists
- Telephonic Coaches
- Security guards
- and more
It Takes More than a Gym Membership
By now you may be thinking, “I just need to go to the gym after work.” And while exercise is a key ingredient to a good overall healthy lifestyle, even moderate or vigorous intensity exercise a few times per week cannot offset the damaging effects of excessive amounts of time sitting. Let’s put this another way. Going to the gym or engaging in other moderate moderate or vigorous activity doesn’t appear to significantly reduce the risks associated with sitting for long periods of time.
Random bursts of exercise cannot offset the damaging effects of excessive stretches of sitting time.
According to Mayo Clinic, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. These are key processes for keeping a human being healthy and when you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action. The key is to get moving despite working at a desk job. Luckily, there are many ways to get moving to reduce the health risks of sitting at a desk all day.
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10 Tips to Help You Become More Active at Work
1. Start moving before work.
Much of the time we delay our workout saying “I’ll take a walk on my lunch break” or you might commit to heading to the gym straight after work. But we all know that our days get busy and oftentimes, we simply don’t find or make the time to follow through.
Instead of waiting, get an early start on physical activity. Whether you walk the dog, walk on a treadmill, or walk in your neighborhood – take a morning walk before you go to work or school. By jumpstarting your physical activity early in the day, you’re more likely to create momentum that keeps you active all day.
2. Use technology to help you avoid sitting all day at work.
We often blame technology as the reason for our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. But tech can also be a source of help in creating a more active lifestyle, too! A reminder app could be your ally in getting more active. Many of these apps can send you a reminder to take a break, get moving, or improve your posture.
Check out this list of activity monitor or break reminder apps to help you remember to move more at work when you’ve been sedentary for too long.
3. Stand while you work.
If you want to create a more active workspace, it could be as simple as standing while you work. But if you work at a computer, this might be a logistical challenge.
A standing or stand-up desk is a great tool to help you stand more throughout the day at work. These desks are flexible and allow you the option to either sit or stand while you’re working. As a result of standing during your workday, you may feel more energized and productive. You may also alleviate back or neck pain if this has been something you are experiencing.
You have two primary options for creating a standing workspace.
Option 1: Convert your existing desk.
The first option is to give your existing desk a makeover. The desktop converter or sit-to-stand riser will allow you to turn your existing desk into a standing workstation.
One that we love is the VersaDesk Standing Desk Risers. These are the best options to turn your current desk into a sit-to-stand desk. These desk risers can be easily adjusted to suit your height. With the push of a button, you can be on your feet in seconds. And what’s even cooler is that some offer an interactive whiteboard surface allowing you to take notes on your desk!
Option 2: Invest in a complete sit-to-stand desk.
Maybe you’re at a point where you’re ready to go all in. In that case, you’ll want to consider replacing your existing desk with a complete adjustable height sit-to-stand desk solution. A great company to check out is Varidesk. They offer full standing desks as well as complete workstations and accessories. A standing desk will help you to be more active and agile while you work.
These are our favorite tools to create a standing workspace:
4. Install a computer program.
If you work at a computer most of the day, use a desktop app such as RSIGuard to help lower your risk of repetitive strain injuries. This software, focused on wellness and productivity, promotes healthier work behaviors for those who work at a computer all day.
Even if you can’t get away from your office or cubicle, a desktop alert will prompt you to stretch, walk in place, or pace while talking on the phone.
5. Wear a pedometer.
Tracking is the key. You won’t know how much you’re moving unless you track it. Wearing a pedometer or activity tracker is an easy way to become aware of how active you are each day at work.
The American Council on Exercise says that people who track steps take an average of 2,500 more steps every day. A pedomer might just be the tool you need to meet your goal for activity during the day. A common goal for people who wear pedometers is 10,000 steps per day; this equates to about five miles depending on your stride.
There are many types of pedometers on the market. You can buy a pedometer for as little as $20 and up. The key to being successful is setting a goal and making regular movement a part of your day.
6. Be active on breaks.
Head out for a brisk walk during your lunchtime or breaks.
7. Head outside for meetings.
Have walking meetings. Head outside for a walk with co-workers instead of huddling in the conference room.
8. Interrupt your long sitting stretches.
Be sure to interrupt your sitting at regular intervals. Get up every 20 to 30 minutes. Even if you are unable to physically leave your space, take a break from sitting and move.
9. Spread out your activity.
Don’t cluster your activity. Spread out your activity throughout the day. Remember the studies show that excessive periods of sitting is the problem, not lack of exercise. So even if you work out after a long day of sitting, you are still at elevated risks for the health conditions mentioned in this article.
10. Keep fitness equipment nearby.
Keep small hand weights or a resistance band at your desk for bicep curls, lateral raises, rows, and overhead presses. Watch demos online or work with a fitness trainer to make sure you’re doing exercises correctly to avoid injury.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22682948. Accessed April 26, 2018.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005. Accessed April 26, 2018.
Matthews CE, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012;95:437. Accessed April 26, 2018.
Shrestha N, et al. Workplace interventions for reduced sitting at work. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD010912.pub2/abstract. Accessed April 26, 2018.
https://www.ft.com/content/2d8566e2-81b3-11e6-8e50-8ec15fb462f4. Accessed April 26, 2018.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps parents to build healthier habits and routines to better balance home and work life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and gardening geek in her spare time.