Over the past few years there have been many headlines claiming that “sitting is the new smoking”. But can sitting really kill you?
The global explosion in the popularity of health devices like the Fitbit and Garmin Vivo that remind you to move, would certainly suggest that sitting for a long time is something the world is concerned about.
Since we at Equilibrio, like so many of our readers, spend a lot of time at our desks, this is a real concern for us. We decided to learn the truth behind these claims.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
Unsurprisingly, there are slightly conflicting research conclusions.
The majority of the research says that prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing several serious illnesses like various types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This is supported by a US-based study published in early September 2017 (based on a 4-year survey covering a population of about 8,000 US citizens aged 45 and over), which says sitting for extended periods is indeed linked to causes of mortality.
Another study published this year adds that one needs to take contributing factors such as obesity and the level of overall physical activity into account. Based on their 13-year study (observing 4,811 people aged about 44), it said that prolonged sitting may lead to health issues such as diabetes BUT only in people who are physically inactive or both physically inactive and obese. According to this study we need to think of sitting as part of a wider problem. That of overall physical inactivity.
Our overall conclusion is that being sedentary is not good for you and you need to move throughout the day. All the researchers advise that, if you’re going to sit for long periods of time (like one does at the office), you should get up and MOVE around often and be sure to exercise, where your heartrate is elevated, regularly.
SHOULD WE INVEST IN STANDING DESKS?
Not necessarily, unless you prefer to stand while you work. There is limited evidence to suggest that standing is a healthier alternative to sitting. In fact, some medical professionals are of the opinion that standing for prolonged periods can itself cause some medical issues. If you go from sitting all day to standing all day, you run the risk of developing back, leg, or foot pain. If you want to invest in a standing desk, make sure to “phase-in” your use of it.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO TO LIMIT THE HEALTH RISK?
You need to MOVE more
If you have a job or lifestyle where you have to sit for prolonged periods, the consensus advise is that you should get up every hour AS A MINIMUM, but ideally every 20-30 minutes. And you shouldn’t just be standing, you need to get up and move about for a few minutes to get the circulation going.
Watch your posture
Pay attention to your posture and make sure your body is in an ergonomic position while seated. This means sitting back in your chair with feet flat on the floor. Hands and wrists should rest on your desk and be lined up in relation to your keyboard and mouse, while making sure to keep your shoulders and arms from tensing up. Some office furniture suppliers, like Dauphin, offer a set-up service for customers. This is a worthwhile exercise that will limit neck and back strain.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults should do moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for two hours and 30 minutes every week (30 minutes five times a week), plus muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
WAYS YOU CAN MOVE MORE THROUGHOUT THE DAY
1. Get up to drink water.
2. Get up to make your own tea or coffee and offer to make some for your colleagues.
3. Instead of sending an email to your colleague in the office next door, get up and have a conversation.
4. Invest in tech. I have an Apple Watch which has a stand goal that I need to reach every day. It really does work.
5. Go for a little walk after lunch. Even if its inside your own building – use it as an opportunity to “network” and catch-up with colleagues.
6. Don’t try to find the nearest parking bay to the entrance. Park further and walk.
7. Do these upper body stretches while reading emails: Circle your shoulders, turn your head gently from side to side, and reach both arms up. Also, be sure to stretch your wrists and arms after long hours of sitting in front of your computer.
8. Consider keeping a stability ball at work and swapping it out with your desk chair to sit on it from time to time. You can even lightly bounce on it during breaks! We know that bouncing is also good for the lymph system.
9. Yes, you’ve heard it before – take the stairs. If your floor is a little too high up, get off the lift 2 or 3 flights before your floor and take the stairs the rest of the way.