By now, you’ve probably heard that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy. You also have likely gotten the message from your doctor, news media, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that exercise can keep you healthy. Perhaps you even know the CDC’s recommendation that you should exercise at a moderate-intensity level for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, or at a vigorous-intensity level for at least 20 minutes, three days a week. Well guess what — a lifestyle that is sedentary for extended periods of time is related to disease and early death, even if you get the recommended amounts of exercise!
A recent study by the American Cancer Society found that women and men who sit for more than six hours a day were 37 and 18 percent more likely to die during the study than individuals who sat for less than three hours a day. The real shocker was that, over the 14 year study, this relationship between sitting and an increased death rate persisted even after physical activity level was accounted for. Similar results have also been published recently relating a sedentary job to increased risk of colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
This research indicates that sitting for long periods of time may just be bad for you, regardless of how much activity you get the rest of the time. Think of it as similar to smoking — it’s common knowledge that tobacco use is just plain bad for your health, regardless of how healthy you are in other aspects of your life. You can’t offset the unhealthy effects of smoking by exercising or eating a perfect diet. Now it seems that prolonged sitting has a similar effect on your health, one that cannot be mitigated through other healthy behaviors.
So what can we do about this latest health danger?
Just like society has done with smoking, we need to take steps to remedy this lifestyle-associated health danger, now that we know it exists. But most of us can’t eliminate all of the aspects of our lives that typically require us to sit, like our jobs. What we can do is adapt our behaviors and environments to facilitate a reduction in time spent sitting.
Several means of doing so include:
• Installing standing, adjustable, or treadmill desks
• Replacing desk chairs with exercise balls
• Encouraging employees to stand for at least 4-5 minutes an hour, for example:
• Set recurring hourly reminders that tell them to get up and move
• Tell them to walk in place each time they are on the phone
• Suggest they walk over to speak with co-workers instead of e-mailing or calling
• If they need to give things to a coworker, deliver them one at a time, instead of waiting
until each is ready to be delivered.
• Teach them some back, arm, shoulder, and leg stretches, or yoga – not only will this get
people out of their seats, they will also feel wonderful and it will be good for their bodies!
• Creating wellness challenges that encourage employees to get up and move, like:
• A stair challenge, that challenges each employee to walk 10 flights of stairs a day
• A lunchtime walk challenge, that asks them each to go for a 30 minute walk at lunch
• A stretching challenge, that requires they spend 5 minutes stretching every other hour, on
the hour. That way, people will be able to tell who is doing it and who is not.
• Implementing a walking program, like PHS’ Walk to Wellness!
Aside from reducing time spent sitting, walking can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, orthopedic injury, and even Alzheimer’s disease. And while you might worry that employees are wasting their work time exercising, higher activity levels actually increase productivity, so you will get more done instead of less!
So now that we’ve learned extended periods of sitting are dangerous, as well as some strategies to reduce the associated risk, what are you waiting for? Get up from that chair right now and do some jumping jacks, stretch your back, run the stairs, or simply go for a walk! We can help - get started with PHS’ Walk to Wellness today!