Just when you finally started eating your vegetables, there is more bad news about how you could be hurting your health. Recent reports that have found that prolonged periods of sitting are dangerous and even deadly. This is troubling news, especially considering the fact that so many of us lead sedentary lifestyles out of pure necessity. In fact, more than half of Americans spend six or more hours sitting per day. If you commute to work and spend your day sitting at a desk, then you are easily accumulating hours of sitting. Add some television time to the total and it can be a little disconcerting to realize just how much time you spend sitting around.
What you may not realize is just how serious this issue is. Health experts have coined the term “Sitting Disease” to describe the long-list of symptoms, including high blood pressure and increased risk of acquiring a range of chronic diseases that ultimately have no cure. While humans may be living longer than ever before, we are experiencing poorer health and sitting disease could be a major contributing factor.
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What is Sitting Disease?
Sitting disease is a consequence of our modern life. Advances in technology mean better mass transportation, fewer jobs that require physical activity and more jobs that involve spending most of the day sitting at a desk. Not only are we not biking or walking to work, once we get there, we aren’t plowing fields or hammering nails. Instead, we are hammering away at a keyboard and only standing up every now and again to refill our coffee cup. In 1960, about half of the workforce engaged in physical activity as part of their job. Today, that number is less than 20%.
While it is easy to point out all the ways that technology has made our lives safer and easier, it has also introduced some unintended consequences. As of 2017, about 70% of adults are overweight or obese and sitting is a major contributing factor to this staggering statistic. Sitting disease has become a real health concern that is affecting a significant portion of our modern society. There are no two ways about it: the longer we spend sitting, the more we increase our risk for obesity and a host of other health problems.
The term sitting disease actually describes a metabolic syndrome that causes key enzymes in our blood to go to sleep are 60-90 minutes of inactivity. Lipoprotein lipase enzymes are responsible for metabolizing fats and sugars in the bloodstream. If these enzymes are asleep at the wheel, the result is weight gain, diabetes and low HDL cholesterol levels. Physical activity is the only way to keep the enzymes alert and working properly. The good news is that even moderate activity is enough to prevent these essential enzymes from going into hibernation. All it takes is walking, fidgeting and even contracting muscles every hour or so to avoid serious health conditions caused by too much sitting.
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Will Regular Exercise Prevent Sitting Disease?
The short answer is: no. Even if you leave work and spend a couple hours in the gym, you cannot undo the negative effects of sitting disease. You may be burning some calories, but if you spent eight hours of your day sitting at your desk, your metabolism will still be negatively affected and you will be at a higher risk for a variety of conditions that cannot be reversed.
That isn’t to say that you should cancel your gym membership. Not engaging in regular exercise simply means that you are compounding your risk level and making it that much harder to enjoy good health.
What are the Symptoms of Sitting Disease?
The symptoms of sitting disease can be rather subtle. You may not notice any major differences in your wellness until you experience a serious health event, such as a heart attack. That being said, there are some symptoms to be on the lookout for:
- Poor posture. Long periods of sitting can weaken your core muscles and make it more difficult to sit up straight. As a result, you end up slumped over your desk, which only makes the problems worse. Standing and stretching throughout the day can help keep your muscles actively engaged.
- Back pain and injuries. Poor posture can also lead to back and neck pain and weak muscles can make you more prone to injuries. If you experiencing a stiff back that is preventing you from sleeping well or enjoying your favorite activities, don’t be too quick to chalk it up to aging. The truth is that you may be losing key muscle strength due to sitting disease.
- Weight gain. Again, it can be easy to dismiss a few extra pounds or attribute some weight gain to the holidays, but if you can’t seem to get your weight under control, you may be battling a slow metabolism that is the result of sitting disease.
- A sedentary life can actually make you feel tired. As your metabolism slows, so does your blood flow. At the same time, blood sugar levels spike and you end up feeling constantly exhausted despite the fact that you aren’t exerting that much energy throughout the day. Being active will allow your body to maintain blood sugar levels and provide you with much needed fuel and energy.
Serious Health Consequences of Sitting Disease
Type II Diabetes
Type II diabetes occurs when the body has a hard time converting carbohydrates from the food you eat into energy. As a result, you will experience blood sugar spikes that have extremely erosive affects. While diabetes in and of itself is a dangerous condition, it is also responsible for causing a whole host of other major health problems. From heart disease and organ damage to blindness and nerve damage, diabetes can be a devastating disease. There is even emerging evidence that shows uncontrolled blood sugar may be responsible for Alzheimer’s.
While genetics and diet are contributing factors to incidences of diabetes, lack of exercise combined with extended periods of sitting only increase your risk for suffering from diabetes and a long-list of related diseases. Researchers have concluded that for every extra hour spent sitting, your risk of acquiring type II diabetes increases by 22%.
Heart disease can take on many different forms. In general, the term “refers to conditions that involve narrow or blocked blood vessels.” It can also include any conditions that affect other components of the heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm. Essentially, if you are suffering from any conditions that are negatively affecting the heart’s ability to perform at an optimal level, you could be diagnosed with heart disease. Ultimately, heart disease can lead to a stroke, heart attack or chest pain. The stakes are extremely high and there is no easy way to undo damage. Bypass surgery can help reroute major arteries around blockages, but there is no way to reverse heart disease.
Studies have found a clear link between sitting disease and heart disease. In fact, for every extra hour a person spends sitting, there is a 14% increase in coronary heart calcification. The simple act of sitting can have major and irreversible health consequences that are often considered more harmful than smoking.
Increased Risk for Certain Cancers
Studies have also shown that people who spend most of their day sitting, experience higher rates of a wide range of cancers. While there is still a lot to learn about the causes of cancer, it is clear the lifestyle choices are a significant contributing factor. This makes it especially important to be aware of the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
How Can I Prevent Sitting Disease?
The easiest way to prevent sitting disease is to stand. It couldn’t be simpler to improve your health and prevent the onset of chronic diseases that will ultimately shorten your lifespan and affect your quality of life. Not only does standing burn 30-50% more calories than sitting, it is enough to jumpstart those all -important enzymes and prevent your metabolism from going into hibernation. You don’t have to do jumping jacks in your cubicle or run laps up and down the stairs every hour to avoid sitting disease. It is literally as easy as standing up.
There are some simple steps you can take to help you get in the habit of standing and moving around more often throughout the day.
- Set a timer or alarm. If you are hard at work, time can fly by and before you know it, you have been glued to your desk for three hours straight. A gentle reminder can get you up and out of your seat. You might also be surprised to find that moving around helps you think more clearly throughout the day.
- Hold walking meetings. Instead of gathering around the conference room table to brainstorm ideas, why not take a walk around the block? It is a great way to break up the day and get everyone moving.
- Use your break or lunch time to talk a walk. Instead of eating at your desk or plopping down in the breakroom to have a snack, get up and go for a walk. It can literally add years to your life.
- Park away from the building. Don’t waste time circling the lot looking for the closest parking spot. Find one in the far corner and get in some extra steps.
- Refill your water every hour. Need an excuse to get up and move around? Head to the drinking fountain every hour to fill up your glass or water bottle. As an added bonus, if you keep drinking water throughout the day, chances are that you will also need to use the bathroom more frequently, which is just another chance to do some walking and moving around.
Exercises You Can Do in the Office
Just because you are stuck in the office all day, doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in some exercise. While you might feel a little silly if you don’t have a whole lot of privacy, just remember how serious sitting disease can be. You might just end up setting a good example for your fellow co-workers and changing the culture at your company. Here are a few simple movements that you can perform practically anywhere:
- Full-extension squats. This squat variation involves extending all the way to your tip-toes as you stand up. It is a great way to engage some of your largest muscles and get your blood flowing. If you are a beginner, you can use your office chair for assistance. Try not to put your full weight onto the chair as you sit and then stand up quickly. Repeat this movement for a full minute or as many reps as you can.
- Mimic jump roping. Hop from foot to foot and rotate your wrist to imitate the motion of turning the rope. This exercise is also great for loosening up the wrists and helping to prevent repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel.
- Walking lunges. Any hallway makes the perfect space for a round of walking lunges. Ignore any smirks from your co-workers. After a week, you will probably catch them doing the same thing.
- Muscle clenches. Voluntarily tightened and hold your muscles for 10-15 seconds before releasing and repeating. You can even start at your toes and work your way up and down your body. This will get your muscles firing and kick your metabolism into gear, all without even having to leave your desk.
Eating Healthy in the Office
If you are experiencing the fatigue associated with sitting disease, you are more likely to crave snacks that are high in carbohydrates and reach for unhealthy options. This can lead to further weight gain and begin a cycle that can be easy to fall into and difficult to break out of. Here are some simple tips that will help you avoid establishing bad eating habits that are easy to form in the office environment:
- Pack your meals and snacks. Preparing your meals ahead of time will allow you to pack a healthy balance of vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. This will also prevent you from heading to the vending machine or out to a fast food restaurant when you get hungry.
- Use your break schedule to regulate snacks. A lot of times, people overeat simply because they are bored, but mindlessly munching on chips while you are working is guaranteed to lead to over-eating. Instead of reaching for a snack when things are slow at work, wait till your break time to have a healthy snack. Eating every two hours or so is the perfect way to maintain a steady blood sugar level and avoid binding once you do sit down to eat.
- Just say no. If you have a co-worker with a candy bowl on their desk or there always seems to be a box of donuts sitting next to the coffeemaker, just say no. A piece of candy here and there throughout the day can add up over time. Tell yourself that these treats are off limits. The same should be true for the vending machine. Nothing good is going to come out of that machine.
- Don’t skip breakfast. No matter how many diet trends come and go, the fact that breakfast is the most important meal of the day remains true. Eating breakfast is the best way to jumpstart your metabolism and stave off hunger so that it is easier to avoid reaching for that donut.
DIY Standing Desks
Standing desks have become a popular tool for combating sitting disease. If purchasing a new desk isn’t in your budget at the moment, but you still want to experience the benefits of working while standing, there are some inexpensive solutions. For instance, a simple storage box can be used to raise your laptop to the perfect height for standing. Before you purchase a box, be sure to take some measurements and determine the ideal height. This will vary from person to person, but keep in mind that the table height should be at about elbow level.
Another important factor to keep in when building your own standing desk is that the monitor should be elevated above the keyboard. The screen should be directly in your line of vision so that you don’t put unnecessary strain on your neck. Ideally, you will also want to have the screen placed at a 20 degree tilt. This is the most ergonomic configuration.
To secure your platform in place, you can use a variety of brackets, depending on how permanent you want the set-up to be. It is also a good idea to place shelf liner on the surface of the various boxes in order to prevent your equipment from sliding and moving around too much. For more detailed instructions on how to build your own standing desk, click here.
Solutions Worth Investing In
One of the biggest drawbacks of a DIY standing desk, is that it doesn’t offer adjustable components. If you have some resources available, you might want to consider investing in other options that are more flexible. Perhaps the most cost-effective solution is the OFM 5100 standing desk converter. This simple, yet sturdy device can be placed on your existing desk and it provides plenty of adjustable features so that you can find the right height to provide maximum comfort.
For those who are ready to go all in and purchase a new standing desk, there are plenty of great options on the market. Your final decision will depend largely on your budget, what kind of equipment setup you need to accommodate, how much surface space you need and what kind of adjustable range you are looking for. Keep in mind that most standing desks cost over $1,000, so be sure to do your research and find the right solution for your needs.
If you want to take things a step further and really get moving at work, a treadmill desk could be the best solution. It might seem like walking while working would actually be a distraction, but studies show that people who use a treadmill desk are more productive, have a greater attention span and exhibit more brain activity. Employees who use treadmill desks also report feeling more positive and energized. It also doesn’t hurt that you can burn 500 calories walking 5-6 miles per day. Without even changing your eating habits, you could be on track to lose one pound per week.
Tips for Using an Adjustable Standing Desk
While sitting for hours on end is clearly bad for your health, standing all day can causes its own aches and pains. It may take some time for you to get used to standing and build up muscles that haven’t been used in a long time. Even then, you aren’t going to want to stand for 8-10 hours at a time, so be sure that you also have the option to sit when necessary.
Here are some other tips that will prevent pain while standing:
- Wear flat shoes. While they might not be your most stylish pair of shoes, flat shoes will help prevent neck and back pain.
- Don’t lock your knees. Try and stay relaxed while standing. Locking out your knees can lead to discomfort and even cause you to pass out.
- Purchase an anti-fatigue mat. A little extra padding beneath your feet can increase comfort and help you stand for longer.
Benefits of Using an Adjustable Standing Desk
In addition to preventing standing disease, using an adjustable standing desk at work provides a variety of other benefits:
- Naturally boosts your mood
- Helps you burn calories and shed pounds
- Helps you avoid blood sugar spikes
- Improves concentration and productivity
- Increases energy
- Leads to healthier food choices
Just as sitting for too long can cause an avalanche of other health problems that feed into one another, engaging in healthy activities can have the same cumulative effect. Once you make a small change in one area, you will begin to notice all sorts of other benefits. Feeling better physically will improve your mood, which may also improve your relationships in and out of the office environment. Losing a few pounds may also leave you feeling more confident and capable, which could help you take on more of a leadership role.
The most important thing to remember about sitting disease is that while it comes with lasting consequences, it is easy to prevent. You can take small steps, starting today, that will reduce your risk of suffering from acute and chronic disease. It all comes down to being aware of the consequences of sitting for long periods of time and putting your health first. Just a minute of activity every hour is enough to prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes and add years to your life. Begin by forming new habits and getting the tools you need to be setup for success.