Death by Sitting: The Real Dangers of Your Office Job
Sitting is the new smoking.
It sounds ridiculously dumb writing that, I know.
I mean come on, we know cigarettes are toxic puffs of air. Obviously those are killing you. But sitting? Let’s be real, it can’t be that dangerous.
Until I dug into the research. And was a bit more surprised than I anticipated…
Think about your typical day.
You wake up and sit down to your bowl of cheerios and coffee, maybe catch a little of the morning news.
Then you sit in your car and spend 45 minutes driving from home to the labor house.
Once you get there, you plop down in front of desk, drop your files next to your computer and get started.
Probably sit all morning until the lunch break, were most people sit right back down at their desks until 5 or 6 PM.
Maybe you had a few pee breaks in there (hopefully since you should be staying hydrated…)
Then it’s that long ass drive home.
Jump on the couch with a frozen pizza and enjoy a few hours of Netflix. If you’re like me, you watch the entire season at once.
Then it’s off to bed.
Sitting, sitting and more sitting.
And here’s what happens.
Every time you sit down, your internal and hormonal body gets lazy. It knows you aren’t working and exerting effort, so it doesn’t have to work much either.
The biggest problem is that the longer you sit, the thicker and slower your blood starts moving. Your red blood cells actually start to clump together making your blood start to flow a bit like a milkshake. Imagine pouring a thick and creamy milkshake down a waterslide instead of water – it’d take much longer to get to the bottom.
And that’s what happens inside you too. Instead of flowing fast and rapid around your body, your blood gets slow. And since blood transports the oxygen to your muscles, nerves and brain – those necessary functions start getting less and less oxygen to power them.
The longer you sit, the thicker your blood and the more lethargic your muscles, nerves, cells and brain get. That means
- Foggy thinking
- Groggy, weak and tight muscles
- And slow reaction times
But then it gets worse.
If you eat a carb heavy diet, those broken down glucose molecules get stuck in the thickened blood. And because your innards have gone lazy, the enzyme responsible for getting that glucose to your cells has stopped working. So those carbs just go right into your fat stores.
And then add on crazy acting hormones that start sending weird signals to your brain about whether you are hungry or not.
And then your muscles start to wear and fatigue. Not because you used them, but because they aren’t needed at all and they start breaking down.
And don’t even get started on sitting with poor posture: achy shoulders, compressed spinal vertebra, tight hips, flabby abs, sore glutes and lungs that can only partially fill with air
Now – obviously those things aren’t great.
But are they really dangerous?
Meh, its kind of debatable.
Sure, one day of sitting is not going to do too much to hurt you.
But what about 20 years of it?
There is some evidence out there that people who sit for more than 8 hours a day shorten their lives by about 5 years. But I am skeptical with how they came up with those numbers.
It’s probably dangerous but hard to really put into an early death value.
What if you workout?
That has to counterbalance the sitting right?
People who regularly hit the gym actually spend more time sitting on their butts than non-exercisers. And that one hour workout doesn’t counteract the downside of sitting all day.
So what are we supposed to do?
Eliminate our traditional desks and all invest in the standing desk stock?
Maybe not. Researchers also looked into this. And they found that standing desks aren’t that much better for you than sitting ones. Now standing desks aren’t going to be called the new smoking any time soon, but they aren’t a perfect solution to our sitting crisis.
The problem isn’t whether you sit or stand at the office.
The REAL problem is not moving your body. Not keeping your blood flowing, your oxygen levels up, and your bones and muscles strong.
Being in one position for too long is going to hurt your body – even if it’s standing.
The good news is that you don’t have to run a mile to counteract the downsides of that static position.
Even those little trips to the water cooler can help. These nerdy researchers found that office folks that moved around for 5 minutes every hour didn’t get as thick or slow moving blood as the sitters got. So that helps a bit.
But 5 minutes of movement every hour isn’t really enough to fight all of the damage from sitting.
Instead, you need to get moving more often.
If your ego can withstand it, do a few squats, a wall sit or even a few burpees every 20-30 minutes. I promise this will give you way better results in the long run than your walk to the water cooler.
But if you aren’t brave enough for the burpees at the office, try these other 7 tips to avoid early death in the workplace.
1. Plan your sitting like you plan your exercise
We all typically know about how long we’re going to spend in the gym on workout. And you can plan your sitting in the same way. One ergonomist (yes, it’s a real job) suggests that for every 20 minutes of sitting, you should also be standing for 8 and walking for 2. Not only will this prevent those nasty seated consequences, but it also boosts your work productivity. Set a timer on your computer to alter you when it’s time to change positions.
2. Think It Over on Your Feet
Most of us sit down to make phone calls or brainstorm ideas. But if you can do it standing or pacing, then get moving. Movement can increase your creativity by 60%, so start mulling over new ideas while on your feet.
3. Get Up When You Yawn
Every time you yawn, get your body up and moving. This jumpstarts your RAS (Reticular Activity System), the neurons that tell your brain when your tired and when you are awake. Moving can be better than that 4th cup of coffee to help power you through the rest of the day.
4. Set an Alarm
Get an app like Focus Booster that alerts you when it’s time to get moving. Even a few seconds of stretching is better for your hips, back and shoulders than sitting. Set it for every 20 or 30 minutes.
5. Stay Hydrated with a Smaller Cup
Keep a smaller cup next to your desk to use for your water intake. When it’s empty, walk your butt across the office to the water fountain to refill it. Just make sure you keep drinking enough water to stay hydrated.
6. Plan a Walking Meeting
Lots of big companies are starting this (especially those that have the money to revamp their office space to make the hallways wider). Instead of sitting at a table, with one or two other people, have a meeting while walking. Now, if your meeting is large, then that’s not very conducive to getting work done. But for small meetings, walking is certainly possible.
7. Talk to Colleagues in Person
Instead of calling or messaging your coworker to ask a question, walk over to their desk and meet with them in person.
Whatever you do, keep your body moving. At home or at the office, don’t let yourself stay seated for too long.
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