Over the past few years, doubtlessly you’ve been reading more and more about the dangers of sitting. Headlines proclaim that “Sitting is the new smoking”, and your office chair is trimming years off your lifespan. These sensationalist headlines may seem a bit overkill but there are many links between inactivity and health risks. So how bad is sitting at a desk all day to your health and what can you do to prevent it?
Studies by the American Heart Association have shown that if you sit in a chair or on a couch for more than six hours a day, not only is there an increased risk of heart disease but also of type-2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.
Many adults spend 8-10 hours a day sitting, and this amount generally increases as we age. We spend these inactive hours watching TV, using the computer, commuting to and from work, and relaxing on the couch after work, and this total doesn’t even include our sleep time.
Four side effects of sitting all day
- Muscle wasting
Quelle surprise, sitting at your desk, or on the couch, all day is making your once-defined muscles into a bowl of quivering jelly. When you’re standing, your abdominal muscles are tensed and tightened, but when you sit, those muscles go unused. Sitting will decrease the strength of your glutes, affecting your stability and power when walking and jumping.
- Weight gain
Another non-surprise. Studies have shown that obese people, those with a body mass index over 30, tend to sit 2½ more hours than thin people. Anyone thinking they are not going to gain weight when sitting for 7-8 hours a day needs to read the next point.
- Brain drain
Even though sitting at your desk may involve using your brain, over time even the most stimulating of tasks won’t keep your brain from becoming foggy after sitting for long periods. Moving muscles pump blood and oxygen to the brain. Your brain function will actually slow when you’re sedentary for long spells.
- Damage to the organs
Too much sitting allows fatty acids to clog arteries to your heart because your muscles burn less fat and your blood is pumping slowly. This is linked to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Also your pancreas may over-produce insulin, which may develop into type-2 diabetes.
Tips to combat sitting too long
- Stand up!
By mixing up part of the day standing at your desk you can drastically reduce the ill effects of sitting. You don’t need to have a specially designed desk to stop you from standing. Prop your computer upon a stack of books, a printer or even an overturned trash can and get on your feet.
- Move around
While it would be great for everyone trapped at a desk to have the option of a treadmill desk, this just isn’t realistic in the modern office. When you take a phone call, do it on your mobile so you can walk around (be considerate of others!), or take a walk while meeting with your team. Either way you should strive to get up and walk around at least once an hour even if it’s just for a minute or two
- Raise your screen height
Whether you’re sitting or standing, the top of your computer screen should be level with your eyes, so you’re only looking down about 10 degrees to view the screen. If it’s lower, you’ll move your head downward, which can lead to back and neck pain. If it’s higher, it can cause dry eye syndrome.
- Get your heart rate up
When you do have some free time, work towards getting your heart rate elevated. Maybe it’s a brisk walk, squats or jumping jacks, but adults need a minimum of 30 minutes a day of exercise to remain healthy. Get moving
- 10,000 steps
The new goal you may have heard about is doing 10,000 steps a day. It’s a great, low-impact way to get in shape and lose weight.Walking between 7500 and 10,000 steps a day is one of the keys to fitness. One study found that walking for five kilometres a day or more can cut your chances of hospitalization from a severe episode of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by about half.
- Take the stairs
If you need a break from sitting at your desk after an hour or so, just go hit the stairs. Climbing stairs is one of the best exercises when it comes to burning fat, strengthening the lower body, toning the butt, thighs and calves, and losing inches from those love handles and belly, and building great abs. Along with these benefits, it is the immense good it does for your lungs and cardiovascular system. A quick up and down in your office stairwell will get the blood pumping again.
There is little doubt that sitting in an office for eight hours, commuting home in a car, bus or train, then plopping down in front of the TV for a few hours will take its toll on your body. More and more evidence is pointing to long-term dangers that come from not getting enough exercise. Just because you have to be at work for eight hours does not mean that you can’t find small but meaningful ways to get a bit more activity into your life.