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Study: Sitting too long can be as hard on your body as smoking

Study: Sitting too long can be as hard on your body as smoking

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There’s something you do every day, for hours and hours on end, that can be more deadly than coronavirus. You’re probably doing it right now.

We’re talking about sitting. Keep reading, this isn’t fake news. It’s a legitimate epidemic. Is desk work as dangerous as smoking? Doctors and research are pointing out many more side effects that haven't been considered until recently. 

Even if you never miss a workout, sitting for long periods of time will still increase your chances of chronic diseases and even early death, researchers say. That’s concerning news when an estimated 86% of us sit all day for work. Don't worry... we'll give you hacks for how to work more movement into your day.

Health risks of sitting too long

A recent UCLA study showed that people are generally unaware of the health risks of sitting for long periods of time. Further, the researchers showed that people generally think that regular exercise sessions wipe out the negative effects of sitting, but they don’t. One exercise session a few times a week isn’t enough to balance the negative effects. (But don’t hang up your running shoes and yoga mat just yet. You’re getting a lot out of your exercise routine even if you’re spending a lot of time in your chair. We’ll show you how to do your job and treat your body well at the same time, coming up.)

Risks of sitting for long periods has been shown to increase your risk of serious health conditions like: 

In addition to employee health, managers take note: sitting for long periods also resulted in fatigue and trouble staying motivated, which could affect employee productivity. 

How to move more during the work day

So, do you crumple up your finance degree and ask your neighborhood restaurants for applications? Of course not. There are ways to balance the effects of sitting that don’t involve a career change. Here are some ways to get moving during the day so that you’re never sitting for a long stretch of time. 

Give up small conveniences in favor of more movement

You can work in extra activity without even realizing it by giving up the small everyday conveniences that keep you sedentary. Create conditions that require a little extra effort, and you’ll see it add up over time. 

  • Park a little further from the door. An extra 20 steps coming in and leaving will add up at the end of the week. 
  • Take the stairs. You may even find that the stairs are faster than waiting around for an elevator. While you’re at it, do some calf raises on your way up. 
  • Put your lunch in the fridge on the floor above yours. 
  • When possible, use a restroom on a different floor than your office. 

Any time you can squeeze in a little extra activity, you’re balancing out some of your sitting time. 

Get a standing desk for your work set-up

Get a standing desk for your work set-up Standing during your workday encourages you to shift your weight throughout the day.

Standing during your workday encourages you to shift your weight throughout the day. These small, subtle movements can counteract a lot of the effects of sitting for long periods of time. For extra benefit, use an active mat, which has a non-flat, varied surface, under your feet to keep your feet moving throughout the day. 

You don’t have to commit to standing all day. Many models of standing desks are built to adjust from sitting to standing with ease - some with just a push of a button. 

A lot of employers will equip you with a standing desk if you can make a solid argument that it will decrease fatigue, promote health, and increase your productivity. If your employer won’t cover the cost of a standing desk, you can buy an inexpensive height-adjustable converter that you put on top of any desk or tabletop and set to a comfortable height. 

Create fun, movement challenges for yourself (and maybe your co-workers, too)

Make workday activity fun by challenging yourself to weave activity into your day. There’s a good chance your co-workers will ask you what you’re up to (especially if you’re hanging out in plank position before your 10:00am status update meeting starts), and they will want to join in, too. Here are a few ideas to start. 

  • Instead of waiting for attendees to filter into the conference room, make a habit of doing a two-minute wall sit before a long meeting (See how long it takes to work your way up to 5 minutes or more!)
  • Put up a lunch laps chart, and see who walks the most at lunch each week 
  • Challenge yourself to do wall pushups every time you have to wait for something, like the elevator or copier
  • Create a water drinking challenge to see who drinks the most oz of water at work each week. (Not exactly movement, but it gets everyone in the friendly-competitive spirit.)

Once you get going, you’ll be overflowing with mini-fitness challenge ideas. 

Do short desk movement routines

Desk yoga and desk stretching make your whole day better. Most people will do a set of desk stretches for a few days

Desk yoga and desk stretching make your whole day better. Most people will do a set of desk stretches for a few days, then stop, so set a semi-regular time on your calendar with a notification so that you are sure you’ll do it. Here are some YouTube videos to get started:

  • 6 minute desk yoga routine 
  • 14 minute office yoga practice for longer breaks 
  • Easy stretches if you’re feeling neck and back tension 
  • 5 lower body stretches - pick a few, and duck into an empty conference room for a few minutes to stretch your legs (If you need a platform, a few unopened reams of printer paper should do it.)

At first, your colleagues may think you’re acting a little strange. Embrace it. You’ll feel a lot better in your body, and you’ll think more clearly throughout the day, and you may find that others join in and move with you.