There are certain things that we accept as being unhealthy, like smoking and drinking too much. We rarely put sitting in that same category. It’s surprising, then, that a quickly growing body of research suggests that sitting for long periods of time is not just unhealthy,but could even cause irreversible damage — damage that can’t be undone by any amount of exercise.
Studies have shown that a sedentary job can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression and even certain types of colon cancer. One study conducted by the American Cancer Society followed 123,216 people for 14 years, and found that sitting for more than six hours a day can take years off of your life.
Many modern jobs require you to sit for long periods of time; we can’t all have active, physically demanding employment. So how can you stay active and healthy without neglecting the responsibilities waiting for you at your desk? Some small changes to your daily routine can help you to find the balance.
Although it may not sound very comfortable or inviting, many experts recommend opting for a backless chair as a healthier choice than the traditional desk chair. The lack of back support will force you to sit upright and improve your posture, strengthening the muscles of your back and stomach. Stability balls, sometimes called Swiss balls, have also started gaining popularity as alternatives to desk chairs, but the research about their benefits is inconclusive and contradictory. One study published in the journal Human Factors found that sitting on a stability ball did increase the function of core muscles and improve posture, but these improvements were very small — and people sitting on the ball were so uncomfortable after only an hour that the researchers could not recommend stability balls for prolonged sitting.
Select a chair that’s comfortable for you, but does not allow you to slouch, so that you can maintain a healthy posture. If you don’t have a choice in your desk chair, try purchasing a lumbar support cushion that encourages you to sit up straight. Remember to adjust the height of your chair so that your feet touch the ground and your knees rest at a 90-degree angle.
Stand Up and Move
If sitting is the problem, then standing seems like a logical solution. Unfortunately, this is frequently easier said than done. At most desks, standing will require you to bend over, which will probably do more harm than good.
Some employers are purchasing adjustable desks that allow employees to raise their work stations, putting their computers at a comfortable standing level. These desks are often large and expensive, but as more people become aware of the benefits of these standing desk, they are gradually becoming more accessible. There are also many DIY solutions available that can convert a standard desk to a standing one.
Most people who have made the switch say that it’s difficult at first, and often leaves their feet aching, but by taking seated breaks, they can gradually increase the amount of time that they are able to stand throughout the workday. Not only does standing improve your posture and build muscular endurance, but supporters of the standing desk claim they have more energy and feel more creative.
If a standing desk won’t fly in your office, get creative. Find opportunities to stand instead of sit, and make good use of any chance you have to walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and in larger offices, skip interoffice mail and hand-deliver things when you can. Taking brief walks and stretching during breaks can keep your energy level up and stop you from sinking into unhealthy, sedentary habits.
Don’t be afraid to do some body-weight exercises at work, especially if you have a private office. Chair-dips, push-ups while leaning on your desk, and chair yoga can give you a short and discreet workout that will keep you active without you getting too sweaty. The exercises you pick, though, will depend a lot on your individual situation.
Although sitting for a long period of time may be a necessary occupational hazard, injecting some bouts of activity and planning out your day with care can help ward off some of the harmful side-effects.
Have you managed to stay active in your office? Share your tips in the comments!