Yes, Your Desk Job Can Kill You
Even if you think you are energetic, sitting all day at work is common for most of us. And it’s killing us, by way of obesity, heart disease and diabetes – three of the very diseases that affect Blacks more.
One study published in 2011 demonstrated that sitting still for more than six hours a day can increase not just your risk of illness, but of dying.
All this sitting down is so unhealthy that it’s given birth to a new area of medical study called inactivity physiology, which explores the effects of our increasingly butt-bound, tech-driven lives, as well as a deadly new epidemic researchers have dubbed “sitting disease.”
What’s so wrong with sitting down?
When you sit for an extended period of time, your body starts to shut down at the metabolic level, says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When muscles (especially the big ones meant for movement, like those in your legs) are immobile, your circulation slows and you burn fewer calories. Key flab-burning enzymes responsible for breaking down triglycerides (a type of fat) simply start switching off. Sit for a full day and those fat burners plummet by 50 percent, Levine says.
That’s not all. The less you move, the less blood sugar your body uses; research shows that for every two hours spent on your backside per day, your chance of contracting diabetes goes up by 7 percent. Your risk for heart disease goes up, too, because enzymes that keep blood fats in check are inactive. You’re also more prone to depression: With less blood flow, fewer feel-good hormones are circulating to your brain.
Sitting too much is also hell on your posture and spine health, says Douglas Lentz, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the director of fitness and wellness for Summit Health in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
“When you sit all day, your hip flexors and hamstrings shorten and tighten, while the muscles that support your spine become weak and stiff,” he says. It’s no wonder that the incidence of chronic lower-back pain has increased threefold since the early 1990s.
And even if you exercise, you’re not immune. Consider this: We’ve become so sedentary that 30 minutes a day at the gym may not do enough to counteract the detrimental effects of eight, nine, or 10 hours of sitting, says Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Cancer Prevention Research Centre of the University of Queensland in Australia.
This is the one big reason so many women still struggle with weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol woes despite keeping consistent workout routines.
In a recent study, Healy and her colleagues found that regardless of how much moderate to vigorous exercise participants did, those who took more breaks from sitting throughout the day had slimmer waists, lower BMIs (body mass indexes), and healthier blood fat and blood sugar levels than those who sat the most. Also, in an extensive study of 17,000 people, Canadian researchers drew an even more succinct conclusion: The longer you spend sitting each day, the more likely you are to die an early death—no matter how fit you are.
How can improve my health if I have to sit all day at work?
Here are some of the best ways to sit less and move more, from easiest to hardest.
Move around while you talk on the phone…
Invest in a two-way speakerphone, super long phone-to-ear cord, or quality headset so you can be more mobile while you chat.
Even if you simply stand while on the phone, you’ll naturally shift from leg to leg.
Replace your desk chair with an exercise ball…
Whether you spend your desk time at the office, or studying at home for that next exam, office ball chairs can help you in many ways, including forcing proper spine alignment, improving your balance and circulation, burning calories, and finally, getting that six-pack!
Stroll after you eat…
Take a quick walk post meals. The fat levels in your bloodstream are highest after eating, and simply moving around afterward increases the activity of lipoprotein lipase, which spurs your metabolism.
Sit on the bar seats at a restaurant…
Sit on the front third of the barstool; spread your feet just wider than hip distance, so they’re supporting a fair bit of your weight, and gently roll your hips forward, arching your back slightly.
This position is called “perching”—it maintains an S-shape in your spine, and distributes your weight more evenly.
Don’t bring a chair…
Whether you’re going to a concert, tailgate, or park, don’t bring a chair.
You’ll find that if you don’t have one, you stand the whole time or naturally move back and forth between your blanket and standing, says Marc Hamilton, PhD, a microbiologist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Instead of emailing or calling a coworker, walk over to her desk. Stand in your colleague’s office to discuss things, or suggest taking a walk to chat.
“Within two weeks, you could get addicted to walking and working,” says James Levine, MD, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic.