How Sitting at Your Desk All Day Can Have Serious Health Consequences

Sitting on the couch playing video games or watching TV is an often-cited contributor to obesity in kids and adults. But how about sitting at a desk for eight hours at work?

“Sitting is the new smoking,” says internal medicine specialist Roy Buchinsky, MD. “For a long time we have recognized that smoking is connected with many chronic medical conditions. But increasing research shows that sitting at a desk all day long can also have serious consequences for your health."

Research shows that sitting causes increased inflammation, a major factor in many diseases, Dr. Buchinsky says.

Links to Disease

Thousands of cases of breast cancer and colon cancer may be linked to a lack of physical activity, says the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

More and more, research reveals that sitting for long periods of time increases some key indicators of cancer risk, the AICR says, even among people who exercise daily. Those indicators include sex hormone levels, insulin resistance, inflammation and body fat.

“Too much sitting around is not healthy, and a lot of it happens at work where so many people are at a desk all day looking at a computer monitor,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “One of the drawbacks of technology is that it puts more people into sedentary, passive jobs, as opposed to physically active jobs.”

What To Do at Your Office Job

People with office jobs needn't be chained to their desk chairs, Dr. Buchinsky says.

“Increasingly, people are using standing work stations and treadmill desks to get out of their chairs at least for some part of the day,” he says. “There is research that shows that standing for six hours burns an extra 54 calories as opposed to sitting – about the equivalent of a fun-sized candy bar."

It may not seem like much, but it adds up. And increased calorie expenditure is only one of the health benefits of standing more.

It may be hard to imagine an office where everybody is standing at their desks, or even walking on treadmills while they make sales calls. But standing may improve productivity, as well as other health benefits,Dr. Buchinsky says.

“Standing tends to make people more alert and more stimulated compared to slouching in a chair,” he says. “Being more mobile around the office can help people to be more engaged and collaborative with other employees.”

How to Be Less Sedentary

Dr. Buchinsky has several recommendations to help you be less sedentary – and more productive – at work:

  • Use a standing work station and/or a treadmill desk for at least a part of the day. “Adjustable desks are available, so you can alternately sit or stand during the workday,” he says. “There are also some repercussions of standing for too long, including possible back pain, swollen ankles and tired feet. Try splitting the workday into four hours sitting and four hours standing. Or do six and two. Like most things in life, moderation is the key.”
  • Don’t eat at your desk. “It may not always be easy to get off your chair when it's your job and you have a lot to do,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “But you can at least get away during lunchtime.”
  • Communicate with co-workers face to face instead of texting or emailing. “If you have something to say or ask, get up and walk over to them,” Dr. Buchinsky says.
  • Employ walking meetings when possible. “Exercise stimulates the brain,” he says. “Walking and talking could be more productive - as well as being healthier.”
  • Every half hour, get up to stretch, or take a short walk for one or two minutes. Or get up and move around for five minutes every hour. “When I talk to audiences, I always have them get up and stretch periodically,” Dr. Buchinsky says.
  • Stand up while talking on the phone.
  • Find small ways to be more active throughout the day. “Every little bit helps,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “Think about taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Park further away from the office instead of waiting for the prized spot close up.”

“We're a very sedentary society, which is why we're an overweight society,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “Because we normally spend the largest part of our days at work, it makes sense to do what we can to get out of our seats and move around more. We should take the same philosophy home with us as well.”

Roy Buchinsky, MD is an internal medicine specialist and the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Buchinsky or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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