Business of Well-being

A Sitting Disease Epidemic in the Workplace

"Sitting Disease" is becoming more and more of an issue in our society. This new health issue has arisen as sedentary behavior-sitting at work, watching TV, commuting-now eats up the vast majority of our time.

According to Mayo Clinic, 50-70% of people sit at least six hours a day, and 20-35% of people spend over four hours every day watching TV. This shows us that the sitting disease is spreading between home and work, and it can quickly infect your workforce.

The Bad News

This new health risk is a huge problem for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the effects of sitting all day can't be reversed by even the most intense workout later that night. The problem needs to be cut off at the source so those negative health consequences can be avoided all together. A few of the detrimental health effects that a sedentary lifestyle can have are:

  1. Increased risk of obesity, heart disease and even some types of cancer,
  2. Decreased function when it comes to circulation, respiration and posture,
  3. Mental issues including increased fatigue, loss of focus, higher stress levels and lower productivity,
  4. Fewer calories burned throughout the day.

The negative side effects of living a sedentary lifestyle are said to decrease life expectancy by an average of 21.8 minutes for every hour spent sitting. The risks get a bit more serious as an individual gets older, so it's important to focus on moving throughout the day. Aside from these negative individual effects, sitting disease can spell trouble in the workplace as a well.

Obviously unhealthy, fatigued, unfocused individuals are not the kind of people companies aim to hire. The fact of the matter is, when employees sit all day, this is what they become. The struggling workforce will obviously have an impact on the overall efficiency of the company, and therefore the bottom line.

So, sitting disease has impeded on the health of the workforce, but many wellness programs are not addressing sedentary lifestyles. It's no surprise. Benefits and wellness professionals face an uphill battle trying to convince managers who feel that productivity and department goals could suffer if employees had "moving breaks" during the day.

In fact, many corporate cultures see employees as only being productive if they are in their seats working.

The Good News

While a sedentary lifestyle can seem like a scary, life-threatening condition, the truth is there are a lot of things that can be done to avoid these negative health effects. It's been shown that simply breaking up the time spent sitting, and focusing on moving throughout the day can reverse the effects and help improve overall health. Here are a few great tips to intentionally rid the workplace of sitting disease.

Number 1: Take Breaks

It's not too difficult to take breaks throughout the day to get moving. These breaks can easily blend into a typical work day. One option is to take all phone calls either standing or walking around. Another is to get up and move every hour. There are even simple timers that can be downloaded on computers or phones so there is no excuse to "forget" to move.

When the timer goes off, walk to the water cooler, a coworker's desk or just take a lap around the office. Finally, exercise breaks can make a huge difference. Every so often do some of these awesome office workouts like wall-sits, tricep dips and more!

Number 2: Compensate

While there is no way to compensate for a sedentary lifestyle, there are things that can be done throughout the day to maintain a healthy body. First, focus on sitting correctly. Be sure to sit with good posture: back straight, feet on the floor and no slouching! Second, get moving in other ways throughout the day.

This could include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from the door or filling your water bottle at the farthest fountain. Finally, counting steps throughout the day has become an awesome trend. With the emerging wearable technology, this process is incredibly easy, and will encourage more walking during the day (which decreases time spent in a chair!).

Number 3: Don't Sit

This is actually as simple as it seems. Just don't sit. There are plenty of options to turn workstations into sit-free, or sit/stand zones. If the budget is available, invest in sit/stand desks for an easy transition, strictly standing desks or even treadmill desks. If the budget doesn't allow for specific standing technology, it's simple to make a standing desk.

Just find a shelf, box or stool to set on the desk's surface. This will act as a computer stand. Get multiple shelves to create spaces for writing or reading. Then, get the chair out of the way and stand up. Easy as that! This cheaper option is also great because the shelves can simply be moved and supplies put back on the desk's surface to give tired or sore legs a little break.

Whether buying or making a sit/stand desk, it's important to consider starting slow. At first, when standing to work, try to stand for ten minutes every hour. Gradually increase the time until it's comfortable standing for a longer period of time than sitting. This gradual improvement will also be seen in the focus and productivity of employees.

Essentially, sitting disease deals with the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time throughout the day. This can really throw off an employee wellness program because it's inadvertently sabotaging the health of the employees. The unhealthy employees will be less productive, the company won't be efficient, and the bottom line will be impacted.

As a wellness program develops and health is incorporated into the company culture, it's important to broaden health messages from the typical "blanket-statements," and also focus on promoting movement and reducing time sitting.

Sitting disease might be running rampant throughout offices across America, but all is not lost. Use these tips to fill those gaps and avoid the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

About the Author

Alan Kohll is founder and president of corporate health and wellness solutions Total Wellness. Contact him at Follow TotalWellness on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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