By now, many of you have heard of the “sitting is the new smoking” crisis affecting our desk-bound workforce.
The BAD news is that repetitively sitting for prolonged periods has been linked to being at higher risks for several diseases and disorders.
The GOOD news is that breaking our collective “addiction” to prolonged sitting will not have the same unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as quitting smoking, and the solution is quite simple: get up and move!
If you need the motivation to take more standing or walking breaks at the office, our preferred motivator is the positive reinforcement that your body will give you when it starts feeling less pain and building more energy. But if you need extra incentives to get started or keep going, these sedentary lifestyle health risks can give you the final push to commit to an active lifestyle.
Risk #1 : Musculoskeletal dysfunction
Young people entering the workforce face an insidious health challenge. Anyone not used to 8 hours of static sitting usually feels like they’ve aged a whole decade after only a few weeks at a traditional office. That’s because musculoskeletal disorders, which can refer to over 200 conditions affecting the bones, joints, and connective tissues, are the most common health risk of a sedentary lifestyle.
The vast majority of office employees report some form of chronic neck, shoulder, or back pain. Part of the blame can be placed on the non-ergonomic design of traditional workstations, but a more substantial part has been attributed to the lack of movement incorporated into a typical workday routine. We are built to move, not sit (nor even stand) in the same static position for hours on end.
Medical researchers have identified height-adjustable desks as an efficient solution to a sedentary workday. They allow you to change your posture throughout the day easily. The light activity gained from these sit-stand transitions puts you on the right track towards a more active lifestyle.
Risk #2 : Cardiovascular disease
The knowledge that sitting is bad for us is disconcerting for self-proclaimed couch potatoes. Even spending as little as 23 hours a week in a stationary position (watching TV, sitting in your car, etc.) can increase your risk of heart disease by 64% compared to those sitting fewer than 11 hours/week.
Uninterrupted sedentary time increases the inflammatory response in your heart, causing issues with vascular function, circulation, and blood pressure. The best solutions for those who have to work 40hrs a week at a traditional office are to switch to an adjustable sit-stand desk or develop the habit of taking more breaks to stand, walk, and stretch.
Keeping an eye on your extended sitting time is vital to protect your heart from diseases such as myocardial infarction, angina, heart failure and stroke.
Risk #3: Type 2 diabetes
If you think staying away from sugary sodas and fatty junk food is enough to ward off Type 2 Diabetes, we have bad news for you. Your blood sugar levels will spike when you're stationary for too long, and your bloodstream will start to accumulate fat.
These effects, combined with other metabolic issues that come from prolonged sitting, like high blood pressure and bad cholesterol, will land you in the prediabetes range if you're not careful about staying active.
Sedentary lifestyles have been strongly associated with the development of onset diabetes. With every 2-hour increase of sitting time per day, you increase your chance of developing the disease by 7%. It’s an important thing to keep in mind when you’re about to press “next episode” during a binge-watching session!
Risk #4: Mental health disorders
While active lifestyle advocates often focus on physical health, our mental health is equally deserving of some tender loving care. Several worrisome links have been made between sedentary lifestyles and psychological distress, including risks of getting diagnosed with chronic depression and anxiety.
Prolonged sitting combined with excess screen time (for example, watching 42 hours of TV per week instead of 10.5 hours) can lead to a 31% increased risk in developing a mental health disorder.
In one Australian study involving 3,300 government workers, researchers found that anyone spending more than 6 hours a day parked in their office chair was 90% more likely to develop psychological distress, compared to those who sat fewer than 3 hours in a day.
Risk #5: Shorter life expectancy
Developing one or a combination of health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles leads to a low quality of life that can result in premature mortality.
Significant risks of all-cause mortality have been found in multiple medical investigations looking at sedentary time, including 18 UK studies involving 794,577 participants. This study calculated the risk of early death in association with prolonged sitting to be 49% higher in those who had the greatest sedentary time compared to those with the lowest.
So if you don't want to rest in peace earlier than planned, make sure you're not already resting too long or too often on a chair or sofa.
How to protect yourself from these health risks? Simple: GET MOVING!
Now that you're done absorbing these alarming statistics, take a deep breath. Here is some friendlier information to guide your next move:
In 20 studies spanning different countries, the intervention of an active workstation was proven to help reduce the total weekly sitting time for employees. The presence of sit-stand desks also reduced the frequency of sitting episodes lasting longer than half an hour. Combined, these reductions in static positions eliminated increases in the risk of developing sedentary lifestyle-related disorders, since the transitions between standing and sitting promoted movement. That's the key: not just standing or sitting, but moving.
If your workplace is not yet ready to embrace the long-term benefits of having adjustable sit-stand desks, including improved focus and more energy for its workers, don't worry. You can take it upon yourself to monitor your sitting periods, and make sure to take a standing or walking break every 20 to 30 minutes. Reducing your risk to develop these sedentary lifestyle health disorders is as simple as making sure you are conscious and proactive about being less sedentary throughout your day.
Pro tip: It helps to drink lots of water throughout the day, not only to stay hydrated but also so your bladder can serve as an internal timer to get up and go!
What are your tips for staying active during the workday?