I used to work for my dad in his office, the very first “real” job I ever had, and his favorite joke was saying that I was getting the “secretary spread,” a delightfully insensitive term he used to poke fun at the stereotype of overweight office women with flat butts munching out of candy bowls all day. Little did I know, while his delivery was anything but tactful, his message was pretty dead on.
If you sit for more than 6 hours a day, (think about work, driving, watching TV, surfing the internet- are you sitting right now?) here are some disturbing facts: your risk of heart disease is increased by up to 64 percent. You’re also more at risk for certain types of cancer. If kept up long enough, you’re shaving years of quality time off your life. Sitting is literally killing you. Want one more scary fact? Most people sit for 15 hours a day.
Why is sitting so bad for you? Let us explore.
While the effects of sitting also depend on diet and other health factors, let’s assume you are a relatively healthy person of a healthy weight. You finally land your dream job, which unfortunately, has you parked at a desk for the full work day, minus an hour for lunch, and few bathroom and coffee breaks, for a total of 6 hours. Uh oh. There’s that number. And keep in mind, most people sit while eating lunch and, well, during bathroom breaks.
Immediately after sitting down, the electrical activity in your muscles slows and your calorie-burning rate drops to one calorie per minute- about a third of what it does while walking, setting you up for weight gain.
Within five days of working your fancy new desk job, your body increases plasma triglycerides, which are fatty molecules, your LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff), and your insulin resistance. This means your muscles aren’t taking in fat and your blood sugar levels skyrocket, putting you at further risk of weight gain and cholesterol issues.
After just two weeks with your new sedentary lifestyle, your muscles start to atrophy and the amount of oxygen your muscles consume (your maximum oxygen consumption) drops. You may notice you get winded easier while walking or climbing stairs. But I’m climbing stairs! you may say, or “I got to the gym everyday!” Tough tushie. Even if you work out every day, the deterioration begins the second you sit down.
You’ve made it a year at your new job- congrats! While your bank account is happy, your body is suffering. You might start to gain weight and your cholesterol may be climbing. Studies show women can lose up to 1 percent of bone mass a year by sitting for over six hours a day.
If you keep this schedule for 10 years and beyond, sitting for over six hours a day can take about seven quality adjusted years off your life. It increases your risk of dying of heart disease by 64 percent and your overall risk of prostate or breast cancer increases 30 percent. Still your dream job?
The good news is, you don’t have to quit your day job. Even if you are the laziest person to never touch a treadmill, you can still counteract sitting while you are at work, without sacrificing productivity. It just takes a little planning and interruption, but if practiced often enough, it will become second nature.
Try some or all of these strategies at work to save your butt, and your life:
- Stand up. Whenever you think of it, whenever possible.
- Set an alarm to go off once an hour. Listen to it and march in place.
- Whenever you sit down, hover in a squat position for a few seconds. Not only does this prolong your standing time, but squats are great for lifting your glutes.
- Pace while you are on the phone.
- Instead of sending an email or text to a coworker, walk to the recipient’s office and actually speak to them.
- Wander around and pick up or reorganize your office once a day.
- Park in the far end of the parking lot.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- You should drink a lot of water anyway, so use a small cup or water bottle and get up to refill it often.
- Don’t use a rolling chair, get up and walk yourself around your office.
- Take a trip around your office to go to the bathroom instead of the most direct route.
- Wear a pedometer. Aim to get 10,000 steps a day. Simply wearing it will encourage you to move more.