Actually, it’s not really the chairs that are killing us, it’s the act of sitting on them for extended periods each day.
And it’s not really ‘breaking news’ either – the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’ has been around for a while. Yet it seems many of us aren’t getting the message.
We know this because in our recent review of over a thousand leaders’ wellbeing surveys, the item I spend long periods of time sitting down at work is one of the 5 biggest wellbeing concerns reported.
The knowledge is out there, yet behaviour change is lagging behind.
We’d like to give that a boost by reminding you of some of the key facts about what prolonged sitting is doing to our bodies, and offer some tips and suggestions to put into practice.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 3.2 million people worldwide die prematurely each year due to a sedentary lifestyle.
- A research review reported in 2013 showed that each hour of daily sitting time was associated with a 2% increase in all-cause mortality risk, even after taking the protective effects of physical activity into account. The risk appears to increase significantly when adults sit for more than 7 hours per day; by 5% for each 1-hour increment in daily sitting time.
- Estimates are that if daily sitting time were reduced, the beneficial effect on population health could be comparable to that achieved for reducing smoking, inactivity or overweight and obesity.
To be even more specific, here are 10 reasons to get off your butt.
- Extended periods of sitting leads to problems with the musculoskeletal system: back issues from compression in the spine, hip issues from shortened hip flexor muscles. Poor posture while seated can also lead to pain the neck and shoulders, and especially if you are using a computer – repetitive strain injuries here we come!
- Weight gain is more likely if you sit a lot as movement enables the digestive system to work most efficiently. Without this we are at risk of weight gain around the belly
- Bowel function is impacted from long periods of sitting and immobility
- Rates of anxiety and depression are higher in people who sit more (it’s not clear what the connection is but there does seem to be one)
- Sitting for long periods has been linked to heart disease and the risk of having a heart attack
- Sedentary occupations and lifestyles are associated with a higher risk of developing some types of cancers, such as colorectal, ovarian, prostate, and endometrial cancer
- Research suggests that people who spend more time sitting have a 112 per cent higher risk of diabetes
- Being seated for long periods increases the risk of circulatory problems such as varicose veins and even deep vein thrombosis
- Excessive sedentary behaviour is associated with poor regulation of blood glucose levels which in turn negatively impacts cognitive performance and may be linked to dementia
- Long sitting times during the work day are also linked to hypertension (high blood pressure)
With those thoughts in mind, what do we actually do about all this?
How can we change our behaviours, when many of us are required to work with a computer for much of our working day and we often choose to engage in further sedentary ‘screen activity’ (like television) after hours?
Here are some actions/approaches to consider in and around the workplace:
- Most importantly, limit the time spent seated to a maximum of 30 minutes. Yes, we mean get up and move about after 30 minutes – even in a meeting!
- Prompting software or reminders – one client team we know proposed getting a ‘gong’ and having a ‘gong monitor’ whose job it would be to jump up every 30 mins and bang the gong, letting everyone know it was time to stand and move!
- Skip-stop elevators are being built into some new buildings – if you don’t have one, pretend you do and exit the elevator one floor below or above where you need to go and take the stairs. Even better, take all the stairs once a day.
- Stand up for some activities such as talking on the phone, reading emails, reading reports or eating lunch.
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings. Or hold standing meetings – this tends to make them shorter in duration (which can do everyone a favour!).
- Use the speaker phone for conference calls and walk around the room during the calls.
- Take a careful look at your workstation set up – do you need a better chair? Do you need to adjust the height of your desk / screen?
- There are a range of technological upgrades to your work station that might help: walking workstations, cycling workstations, portable stepping devices, portable pedal exercise machines, elliptical machines and sit-stand workstations. Some of these might be easier than others to actually set up and use and of course some will be beyond the budget (yours or your employers). But more workplaces are investing in sit-stand workstations these days and if you don’t have one, try improvising with a high table or counter. (NB if you do get a sit-stand workstation, follow the proper advice on how to start working with this and phase it in gently).
- Choose to stand on public transport to and from work and get off a stop early to walk a bit more.
- Make time in the workday to go for a walk – build in errands to get done so you have to get outdoors and take a few steps.
The bottom line here is that to build and maintain good physical wellbeing (and stay alive longer) we need to sit less and move more.
Not so hard, really?
Keep moving and be well.
Chau, J. et al (2013). Daily Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta- Analysis. PLOS ONE, Vol 8 | Issue 11
Falck, R.S., Davis, J.C., Liu-Ambrose. (2017). What is the association between sedentary behaviour and cognitive function? A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine
Vol 51, Issue 10, P 800-811
Ekelund, U. et al (2016). Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women The Lancet, Vol 388 Issues 10051 P 1302-1310
Katzmarzyk, PT. et al (2009) Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol 41:998-1005.