The accusations against a sedentary lifestyle are piling up. Modern day life encourages inactivity, and sitting for extended periods is linked to chronic disease and wreaks havoc on your spine. Working environments that encourage employees to sit for hours on end are one of the main contributing factors to this problem! And whilst being tied to your computer all day or slouched over your tablet or phone may be inevitable, you can ease the burden on your body—whether that’s by maintaining a good posture or taking regular breaks from your desk to move around. Even better, why not achieve both of these goals by changing your workstation to a sit-stand desk.
If you sit for more than six hours in a day the evidence suggests that you could be doing a lot of harm to your health. There is plenty of evidence that the current NHS recommendation for 30 minutes of exercise once a day is not enough to reverse the harmful effects of inactivity and sitting for long periods of time either!
We know that if you sit for more that six hours:
- There is an increased the risk of developing musculoskeletal problems such as back and neck pain. That’s because too much sitting, while it may be relaxing, puts stress on the joints, muscles and discs of your back and neck. The longer you are seated, the more likely you are to slide in to a poor posture and begin slouching. Slouching can put even more strain on the discs in your spine and result in a bulging disc in your spine, most commonly your lower back.
- The electrical activity in the muscles drops, leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.
😡Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked.
😡Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese.
😡The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides (fats) plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) to fall.
How can you help yourself?
One of the best ways to seamlessly integrate activity and work productivity is through a sit-stand desk. If you stand for three hours a day for five days a week that’s around 750 calories burnt. Over the course of a year it would add up to about 30,000 extra calories which is the equivalent of 8lb of fat! If you want to put that into activity levels, then that would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year. Just by standing up three or four hours in your day at work.
As for exercise, 30 minutes a day is generally recommended. However, recent evidence underlines the importance of also focusing on sedentary behaviours—the high volumes of time that adults spend sitting in their remaining “non-exercise” waking hours. The evidence is compelling for the distinct relationships between ‘too much sitting’ and biomarkers of metabolic health and, thus, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other prevalent chronic health problems, as well as joint and musculoskeletal problems.
Given the evidence for the potential harm prolonged sitting can cause to our bodies, the take home message is that doing only the recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day may not be enough to undo the damage caused by long term sitting. With this is mind, the emphasis for good health being partly dependent on 30 mins exercise 3 times a week could soon be a thing of the past, and may instead be replaced with advice on preventing prolonged sitting in favour of standing up at work in the future…