Sit Much? 5 Ways to Combat the Chronic Effects of Your Desk Job

Editor’s Note: Today’s post discusses the chronic health problems that can be caused by too much inactivity — specifically, sitting. When you are living with a disability that makes standing or moving about difficult, you may spend a great deal of time sitting — but that doesn’t mean you cannot stay active.  We’ll address some specific tips for wheelchair users in an upcoming post.

The idea of an inactive lifestyle as a serious health issue has been well publicized for many years. Most people realize this, though not all are quick to change their sedentary ways. Recent studies, however, have brought forth the notion that the problem really runs a little deeper.  Turns out, there are serious health risks associated with simply how many hours per day you spend sitting still, despite how much you exercise. 

For people who have the ability to stand and walk, guess how much time we spend sitting? A whopping 9.3 hours per day on average.  More than half of our waking hours. Most sit going to work, from work, and at work.  And nowadays, once on the job we can often “go to” a meeting without even having to physically “go” anywhere.  Let’s face it. Technology has made us lazy.  Even if sitting still isn’t a routine part of your day job, take heed in the fact that “lounging around” now also consumes the majority of Americans’ leisure time.  Yikes.

The phrase “sitting is the new smoking” gained a lot of attention after a 2013 TED Talk by Nilofer Merchant, “Got a meeting?  Take a walk,” went viral. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the 3 minutes.  Merchant got the attention of her seated audience by addressing them with this bold proclamation: “What you are doing right now, at this very moment, is killing you.”

Smoking is bad for your health.  Most people can tell you that.  But how can sitting possibly be considered in the same risk category as smoking? An Australian study published in 2012 concluded that extended time spent sitting still each day was indeed a substantial risk factor for increased mortality. Essentially, no matter how much you exercise, the longer you spend sitting still each day, the more at risk you are for many chronic conditions. Think cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack and even cancer. Look familiar?  My 8-year-old had the same list on his “Don’t be a butthead…smoking kills” poster for health class.  Now it appears we need a new slogan.

What to do?  The formula is simple.  Sit still less.  Move more.  We could get a little more technical than that, but let’s first just start with 5 simple goals for the workplace:

1) Get off your derrière.  Every 15 minutes.  Set a timer on whatever electronic device you have with you (because most likely you do) and MOVE.  Walk around the hallway or the room or simply stand up a few times.  If you do nothing else, do this.

2) Choose the stairs.  If you are physically able, take the stairs.  If you’ve got a flight near where you plop yourself down to work, find a reason to go up and down them once an hour.

3) Take phone calls standing up.  Walk around the room for the duration of the call especially during long conference calls or webinars.

4) Extend your commute.  Even if just by a few minutes.  Park a bit further from the office than normal or get off the train or bus one stop away.

5) Talk the walk.  If you are meeting with just a couple people, propose walking for the discussion.  It won’t be conducive to all situations, but according to Merchant, it may very well be more productive than a board room pow-wow.

That’s it for now, but keep your eye out for our upcoming posts on this topic.  We’ll offer tips for combating the same effects for wheelchair users, and give some suggestions for how to use technology to your benefit in the war against sedentary lifestyles.   In the meantime, get moving.  I’m scheduling my first walking meeting this week.  Join me?

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