Millions of people across the globe find themselves sitting in front of their office desk several hours each day, yet only a small number of this population takes the necessary steps to correct the issues associated with prolonged sitting.
One study published in Diabetologica found that for every hour spent by an overweight adult watching television, her risk of becoming diabetic shoots up by 3.4 percent. Most people who participated in the study were spending 3 hours watching television every day.
Despite several health concerns and the mounting evidence against sitting for an extended period of time, it’s not enough to simply tell people to abandon their office chairs to get up and move. Many corporate environments have adapted to the trend and started to use standing desks in an attempt to solve this problem. However, standing desks come with their own disadvantages. Simply switching from sitting to standing may not do you any favors.
It’s also important to mention that standing desks have been associated with lower productivity. For instance, typing accuracy normally goes down when using a standing desk. Not to mention, using one for several hours can cause back pain. While they might help a little bit, it’s clear that they’re not the solution to undoing the damage caused by sitting.
A recent study conducted by the University of Utah and other academic institutions used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The data contains information regarding the eating and exercise patterns of Americans as well as how they generally feel about and conduct their lives. Data was gathered from a total of 3,626 men and women, most of them spending a great part of their day sitting.
The researchers then looked at death records three to four years after they survey to see how many of the participants died during that time frame. The resulting numbers were used to determine the risk of premature death and whether sitting or not sitting played a role in that risk. More simply, the scientists wanted to learn whether standing, walking or more physically intensive exercises instead of sitting was best at preventing premature death.
Much to the surprise of researchers, low-intensity activities like standing barely had any effect on mortality risk. The participants who allotted a few minutes each hour standing did not exhibit any decline in mortality risk compared to those who just sat all day.
Light-intensity activities such as walking or strolling have been shown to provide a measureable benefit when it comes to mortality risk. The study shows that replacing even just two minutes of sitting with gentle walking each hour lower the risk of premature death by as high as 33 percent.
Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu of the University of Utah highlights that this effect appear to be additive. This means that if you’re already walking for a couple of minutes each hour and spend another two minutes walking, then you could even further reduce your risk of premature death. But he also points out that since the study was just observational, it does not prove that walking rather than sitting directly lowers the risk of premature death. What’s conclusive is that the two are associated.
“Prevention is better than cure,” as the old adage goes. You can apply this to your daily routine. Instead of sitting on your office chair from 9 to 5, make it a habit to use a standing desk every hour or so to keep your muscles activated. If this isn’t possible, then you can just take a short break from work, stand up, and walk around for a bit. Do this every 30 to 45 minutes and you’ll surely experience fewer issues related to muscle stiffness, back pain and productivity at work.
There are plenty of benefits of strolling around the office or your home while the risks are few. There shouldn’t be any reason not to change your old and unhealthy habit of sitting all day. Be sure to allocate a few minutes each hour to get up, move around and do some stretches to counter the harms of sitting.