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How to Fight the Negative Effects of Sitting All Day at Work

Rachel Reed
1/10/19 10:53 AM

As society evolves along with innovation, our innate need for physical activity is gradually diminished. The nature of our work is increasingly mental, requiring hours of sitting for concentration, essentially eliminating the need for walking or running. As a result, our bodies respond unfavorably.

While people sleep for an average of 7.7 hours per day, they sit for an average of 9.3 hours per day. One in 4 adults globally is physically inactive in general, and 86% of workers in the U.S now do mostly seated work.

According the the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is a “key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.”

One Mayo Clinic study found that people with four or more hours of “screen time” per day had a 125% increased risk of a cardiovascular-related event (heart attack, angina) over those with two or less hours per day.

Even those who exercise for the recommended 175 minutes per week are at risk, as the damage caused by sitting for prolonged periods daily outweigh the benefits of physical activity. Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth-leading risk factor for death for people all around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Interestingly, the WHO (not the band) also found that low levels of activity corresponded to high gross national product, inferring that countries with large numbers of professionals sit for prolonged hours and are more likely to commute by car, bus, or train, decreasing the need for physical activity.

Considering that the number of sedentary jobs has increased by 83% since 1950, avoiding our chairs is more difficult than ever.

While swapping a chair for an exercise ball has proven to be a popular option, suggesting it’s shape can improve posture, activate core muscles, and burn calories while sitting, there is little evidence to suggest it is an effective method for combating the health risks associated with prolonged sitting.

Luckily, employers have taken notice. Some organizations have even implemented policies to combat inactivity. The AMA recently implemented a policy against sedentary workplaces. Canada’s Sit Kicker initiative raised more than $1 million to implement the program encouraging businesses to shift workplace cultures to be more ‘stand friendly’.

What you can do about it

Stand Up

Find time to stand. Whether it’s while on the phone or while eating lunch, standing for just 10 minutes every hour will improve blood flow and ignite the fat and sugar breakdown process in the body, burning calories.

Step it Up

Always take the stairs. A Harvard Alumni study found that men who climbed an average of eight or more flights of stairs a day had a 33% lower mortality rate than men who were sedentary. Even if there are no stairs in sight, this may be as simple as taking a short, five-minute walk periodically during the work day. 

Consistency is Key

Take a short walk every 30 minutes. Whether it’s around the office or around the block, a quick walk will wake up your resting heart rate and interrupt your body from locking up its metabolic processes.

Walk and Talk

Conduct walking meetings. Not every meeting requires a large screen and a conference room table. Take one or two meetings a week walking outside, or around the office space.

Take Lunch

Always take lunch someplace other than your desk. Prolonged sitting is enough of a problem–poor posture also plays a role in declining health. If you’re sitting at your desk for lunch, not only are you missing an opportunity to get your blood flow moving, you’re likely increasing pressure on your spine.

Make Changes

Pitch a wellness program to your team. Not only will it encourage activity, but it can also improve retention.

Consider transforming your workplace to better serve correct ergonomics. Use OSHA’s Computer Workstations Tool to get started.

Don’t let the evolution of the workplace and its demand to sit still and concentrate put you and your team at risk for long-term health issues. These few simple changes can improve the health of your people and your company.

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