There’s bad news on the health front for all of us who spend our days at a desk, sitting for hours on end while we work on a computer or shuffle papers. Though we might feel as though we are out of harm’s way as we work at our nice, safe office in our cushy swivel chair–we are WRONG and the culprit that is putting us at risk is the very chair that we are glued to day in and day out.
Actually–it’s not so much the chair that’s to blame as it is the amount of time that we spend sitting in it. According to a study from the University of Queensland, inactivity is the biggest risk factor for heart disease in women ages 30 and up–even more so than high BMI (Body Mass Index) and high blood pressure levels. Additionally, James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., and author of Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) says that prolonged sitting can be more harmful to our health than smokingbecause although smoking is unquestionably harmful, only a fifth of the people in the U.S. smoke while the vast majority of adults and children are seated for much of the day. Therefore, the total health impact of sitting is greater than that of smoking because far more people are affected.
Studies have shown that sitters are more prone to thirty-four chronic diseases and conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those who are more active. Even those who engage in the recommended thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day–but are otherwise sedentary have a higher risk of chronic disease than someone like a UPS driver who is up and down all day long but who gets no additional exercise.
So…what do we do about this–I mean, we can’t all become UPS drivers right? Fortunately, a career change is not necessary–all we need to do is take a STAND against sitting. A study published last year in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, stated that blood flow in leg arteries impaired by sitting can be reversed by simply taking a five minute walking break every hour. Just get up and walk around your office, deliver a message to a coworker in person rather than by email, take a phone call while standing instead of sitting. These small but consistent changes can make a significant difference over time. In fact, standing up at least once every two hours (though every hour is preferable) is linked to a 10% drop in the risk of endometrial cancer, an 8% drop for colon cancer and a 6% drop for lung cancer. This is because movement reduces the levels of cancer-linked inflammatory chemicals throughout the body. Our brains also benefit from these walking breaks because physical activity helps to move oxygen through the bloodstream which nourishes brain tissue at a cellular level.
So, incorporating more standing and movement into our routine is clearly the best way to fend off the negative health consequences brought on by sitting for too long–but what about those times when we just can’t leave our chairs? Even if we must remain seated for a longer stretch of time, there are still a few things that we can do to make our sitting less detrimental. The first thing that we can do to improve our health while sitting is to use our muscles. Frequently sucking in our stomach or squeezing our thighs together for five seconds will help to increase circulation as will doing a few simple, seated stretches. If we have a bit more freedom to move about in our chairs, it is beneficial to also try some twisting and turning as well because according to Susan B. Lord M.D., a physician who is also a yoga instructor, “twisting and turning the body increases blood flow and lymphatic drainage which enhances detoxification of the body.” Lord suggests the following simple twist to try at work: Sit facing forward, turn to the right and grab the top of your chair with your right hand, turning your body as far as you can in that direction. Then switch sides. Bending over to touch your toes also has cleaning benefits because letting your head fall below your heart encourages circulation which is also a critical element of detoxification.
It is also important to note the role of posture while we are sitting. Obviously, good posture prevents back pain and helps us to look slimmer; however the perks of good posture don’t stop there. According to a new study in the journal, Health Psychology, people who were asked to sit up straight while doing stressful tasks reported feeling more enthusiastic, excited and strong whereas slouchers felt sluggish, stressed and unmotivated. Straightening our spines makes our minds think that we are focused and ready to go. This little mental cue leads to an overall improved mood.
While sitting is simply a fact of life for most of us in our modern culture–it doesn’t have to be a drag on our overall health. Simply taking a few steps (literally) can drastically improve our well being without jeopardizing our productivity at work. Give it a try–take a STAND for your health…you’ll feel FabYOUlous.
There’s an App for That
If you need a little extra help remembering to add more movement into your day, never fear–there are some great apps and programs that are designed to do just that.
Stand App: This app is geared specifically toward people who sit too much. It is a free app that reminds you to take a break and provides thirty quick exercises to follow to get your blood flowing and posture perfected. Find it at www.standapp.biz.
Time to Move: This app cleverly suggests random breaks with suggested exercises you can do at your desk. Exercise time is tracked, and you get a daily total at day’s end to see how much exercise you racked up. Find it on iTunes or on Google Play for Android.
Coffee Break: This is a cool little Mac app that tells you when you’ve been sitting in front of the screen too long. You’ll get a reminder message and your screen will dim when it’s break time. It lights back up once you’ve walked the dog or refilled your coffee mug. Find it on iTunes or apple.com.
Big Stretch Reminder: This is a highly customizable program for Windows and Linux platforms. It lets you choose types of breaks and the lengths. It also lets you set reminders for the purpose of the break. You can also choose levels of alert intrusiveness and it will (if you choose) display a countdown indicator. Find it at monkeymatt.com/bigstretch