Sitting Disease

retro desk; sitting disease in progress

What could possibly go wrong?

A hundred years ago, our great-grandparents inhaled coal dust all day, baled hay in the hot sun, and did backbreaking factory work. By the early 21st Century, most of us had moved on to comfortable, indoor office jobs.

This sounds like progress. When we were first tucked away in our nice, cozy offices, we had to wonder as we plopped our butts into those comfortably padded office chairs, What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you have probably heard, it turns out that our cushy office jobs can be almost as uncomfortable and deadly as those old mining, farming, and manufacturing jobs.

poor guy contored in office chairNowadays, instead of being crushed under a tractor or mangled on an assembly line, we face more subtle risks of injury and disease – chronic low-back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoporosis, the slow onset of diabetes, the ever-increasing likelihood of heart disease, a steadily rising risk of cancer, higher odds of getting disabled as we age.

These and many more afflictions have been linked to prolonged sitting, an alarmingly common behavior in the modern office.

The Surprising News about Sitting

“Sitting disease,” as it has come to be known, is a surprising affliction. Many of us still have trouble getting our head around the idea that an activity as benign and seemingly “safe” as sitting has such dire consequences.

But it does.

Reams of research have now shown conclusively that sitting all day is deadly. The British Journal of Sports Medicine says that “physical inactivity is one of the most important public health problems of the 21st century, and may even be the most important.”

Let that sink in. Our sedentary ways could be a bigger public health problem than cigarette smoking, excessive drinking, gun violence, and any number of infectious diseases.

Blair’s BJSM paper documents just one study in a huge body of recent scientific discoveries.

The scariest detail in these research findings? It doesn’t matter how much you exercise after work, how fit you are in general, or how genetically predisposed you are to a long and healthy life. “Sitting is an independent risk factor,” says Peter Katzmarzyk , an obesity researcher. No matter how active you are after work, if you sit all day, you will die sooner than you would have otherwise. End of story.

Yikes! That’s some seriously scary news.

How to Fight Sitting Disease

Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to reverse sitting disease. If inactivity is the problem, all you have to do is to move a bit more during your work day.

As I write this, I’m chugging along at 1.7 MPH, walking at a treadmill desk (thanks, Impact Hub Seattle!). I don’t walk on a treadmill desk all day, though, and you don’t have to either. Simply standing up a few times an hour can reverse many of the effects of sitting disease. Standing in stints of an hour or two a few times each day can help even more.

Stand up whenever you answer the phone. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park in the far corner of the parking lot. Get off the bus or subway a few stops early. Walk down the hall for an in-person visit instead of calling a colleague. Sneak in some light exercise at your desk or in an empty conference room. I’m sure you can think of many more ways to get a little more movement into your work day.

These solutions are all simple. Simple, but not easy. Translating insight and information into actual behavior change is always a bit of a project. Well9to5 is here to help you tackle that project, and many others. . .


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