Being inactive can be one of your biggest health risks. If you live a sedentary lifestyle your chance of developing certain chronic health conditions are elevated.
The less you sit at a desk or computer all day, or lay around in general, the greater chance you have of living a healthy 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.
Table of Contents
- The Health Risks of Sitting at a Desk All Day
- Workers Who are Most at Risk
- Can Physical Activity Help?
- How to Get Active: Reduce Health Risks of Sitting at a Desk All Day
The Health Risks of Sitting at a Desk 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. Research shows that 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 Who are Most at Risk
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
Can Physical Activity Help?
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.
How to Get Active: Reduce Health Risks of Sitting at a Desk All Day
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 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. Here are a few:
Go for a morning walk before heading to work or school. And be sure to get in bursts of activity throughout the day.
Download an activity monitor or app to prompt you to be active when you’ve been sedentary for too long.
Use a popup alert.
If you work at a computer most of the day, use a program such as RSIGuard to remind you to move. Even if you can’t get away from your office or cubicle, you certainly can stretch, walk in place, or pace while talking on the phone.
Wear a pedometer.
Tracking is the key. You won’t know how much you’re moving unless you track it. A pedometer is an easy way to do this. Aim for gt 10,000 steps per day evenly spread throughout the day. The key is to not be sedentary for long periods of time.
Invest in a treadmill desk.
These allow you to walk slowly as you work, watch videos, or read – all while getting in your steps.
Be active on breaks.
Head out for a brisk walk during your lunchtime or breaks.
Have walking meetings. Head outside for a walk with co-workers instead of huddling in the conference room.
Interrupt your sitting stretches.
Be sure to interrupt your sitting at regular intervals. Get up every 20-30 minutes. Even if you are unable to physically leave your space, take a break from sitting.
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.
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.
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.
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