Sitting Disease: Too Much Sitting at Your Office Desk is The New Smoking

By
Greg Okhifun
,
Associate Editor
of
Corporate Wellness Magazine
By
,
of

Sitting at your office desk working all week long may help you achieve your self-actualization goals, or pay your bills and keep you out of debt, but may also be setting you up for some trouble in the future –Health problems. Sitting disease is the new smoking in the workplace, and it may be slowly draining your health while you make ends meet.

One in four American adults sits for longer than eight hours every day, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On average, Americans sit for about 11 hours each day, with much of this time spent at the office desk.

While all jobs require a mix of standing, walking, and sitting, some jobs require one to sit more than they stand or walk. A  2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey involving American workers across all civilian jobs revealed that most people employed in corporate jobs, including lawyers, accountants, human resource managers, and software designers spent more than 75 percent of their time sitting than either standing or walking, posing a serious health threat to them.

The Problem with Too Much Sitting

Sitting constitutes physical inactivity and sitting for too long each day or on most days implies having a sedentary lifestyle, whether or not one exercises. This has adverse effects on breathing, blood circulation, and posture, increasing the risk of several diseases.

Physical inactivity is linked to more than 3 million preventable deaths every year globally, ranking as the fourth leading cause of death resulting from non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

In the wake of this, many employers and health institutions, including the American Medical Association, are beginning to promote less sitting at the workplace, enacting policies that help employees cut physical inactivity during work hours.

The health risks of prolonged sitting include:

Obesity

Apart from the fact that prolonged sitting reduces your energy expenditure, which in turn increases fat accumulation in the body, physical inactivity also impairs the breakdown of fats and sugars in the body.

The consequent imbalance between energy intake and expenditure leads to an unhealthy weight gain and obesity. Obesity, in turn, raises the risk of several deadly non-communicable diseases, including metabolic syndrome and heart disease.

Chronic Joint Pains

You would be surprised how sitting for too long may get you to the physiotherapist clinic for massages and rehabilitation.

The muscles of the legs and hips, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, are the major muscles you make use of when you sit. However, when you sit for too long, you overstretch and strain these muscles and this may cause them to become tight and short.

These muscles protect the joints of the hip and back and when they become inflexible and short, especially if you maintain a poor sitting posture, they cause problems for your hip joints and back. Some complications of these include disc prolapse, nerve impingement, and premature degeneration of the joint structures.

Spending a long time hunched back over your desk or computer may also lead to stiff neck and pains in the shoulders.

Heart Disease

Sitting for long periods has been linked to heart disease: experts say that people who sit for long periods have a 147 percent greater risk of developing heart disease (heart attacks and stroke). Also, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that sitting for long hours raises the risk of dying of heart disease by 18 percent.

Diabetes

Inactivity from prolonged sitting can alter how the body handles sugar.  Sitting for too long impairs tissue sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This leads to diabetes, as excess sugar is underutilized by tissues, accumulating in the blood. Research shows that sitting for long periods raises the risk of diabetes by more than 112 percent.

Cancer

Physical inactivity has been linked to certain types of cancer, including the lungs, colon, and endometrium. A review published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reveals that too much sitting may raise the risk of colon cancer by 24 percent, the risk of lung cancer by 21 percent, and the risk of endometrial cancer by 24 percent.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg. DVT is a serious health problem because the clot could break off and obstruct blood flow in other blood vessels it may settle in. If the clot settles in the pulmonary artery of the lungs, it causes pulmonary embolism, a medical emergency that can lead to death if not promptly treated.

Sitting for too long is one of the main risk factors for DVT because it causes stasis or pooling of blood in the legs.

Mental Illness

Sitting too much each day has been linked to mental health issues, including anxiety disorders and depression. Although this link is not clear to experts, it may be due to the lack of exercise and fitness, which boost mental health.

Regardless of whether you exercise or not, if you sit for long periods each day, it counteracts the effects of the exercises and increases your risk of these diseases. In fact, experts say these risks increase with every 2 hours of sitting.

While the solution to this is not to go out of business or quit your job, there are viable solutions to getting you more active and feeling pumped up at the office.

Strategies to Cut Down on Prolonged Sitting in the Office

Movement is the key – to reduce your risk of these diseases associated with prolonged inactivity, here are simple, cost-effective solutions:

Change how you sit

Move while you sit. A number of innovative seats help to redefine workplace design by promoting motion seating.  Swopper chairs allow for rocking, bouncing, and perching while also helping to maintain a good posture.

Recreate your workstation

One way you could ensure you move around often is setting things up in your office to get you up often – place the printer, copy machine, and other office items away from your desk, so you have to walk to reach them every time you need them.

Also, raise your work surface to a height that keeps you standing while you work. Standing for three hours every day can burn up to30,000 calories. That’s the same thing you get after running 10 marathons!

Stand up and Stretch every hour

After every hour of sitting, take a walk around the office or just walk outside to get some fresh air. You may set a ringer to go off when it's time

You can also take short exercise breaks at intervals. Stand-ups, squats, arm rolls, and push-ups are a few exercises you could try at your desk.

Go see a co-worker instead of sending them a mail or a text; take the stairs instead of the elevator, and; when you drive in, park at the back of the garage, so you have to walk a distance before getting to your car on your way out.

Walk while you talk

Walk while you answer your cell phone or while conversing with a coworker. Employers may also set up walking meetings to curb physical inactivity in the workplace. This not only burns excess calories, but it also boosts mental clarity, creativity, mood, and energy levels.

Sitting may not be as harmless as you think: With the high risk of disease and death this seemingly innocuous activity is associated with, there’s a call on employers, managers, and even entrepreneurs to rethink workplace design and culture and to encourage their employees and co-workers to ditch the chair and get moving!