Excessive sitting can be hazardous to employees’ health

Ken Dallafior

| 3 min read

In some offices, people will brag about being chained to their desks. After all, employees who spend long hours focused on doing their work are more likely to get raises and promotions.
But here’s something else they might get: increased risks for obesity, Type II diabetes and death.
Yes, you can add “excessive sitting” to the list of things that could be hazardous to your health. Though it may sound a little ridiculous, it really can cause serious problems, according to a number of studies in the new field of inactivity research.
For example, this excerpt from a New York Times article is as goosebump-inducing as any movie script about an outbreak of a deadly virus:
“This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” researcher Marc Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.”
Another unpleasant surprise: no one’s immune to these harmful effects. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health, even if you’re not overweight, eat well and exercise regularly. Based on a study of 123,000 Amercians, Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, estimated that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives. James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, had this blunt assessment: “Excessive sitting can be a lethal activity.”
A little scary, right? Fortunately, the antidote to this problem is free and available to everyone: Just get up and move.
It’s really that simple – and highly effective. Another study found people who regularly break up their sedentary time with movement as small as taking one step had healthier waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), and triglycerides than those who didn’t take breaks when sitting for a long time.
The key is to move your big muscles in your legs and back, because when they shut down, metabolism slows. Experts recommend taking mini-breaks to move around every hour, even if it’s just for a minute or two. Stand up, walk to the printer, march in place, stretch your neck and shoulders, wiggle your hips, do a happy dance. Whatever floats your boat!
Like most office dwellers, I spend a lot of time in meetings. I make a point to get up and walk around as much as possible before, after and during the meeting. If I am in my office on the phone, I walk around while talking if I can. It also helps relieve pent up energy and helps me focus better.
Business owners who want to keep their employees healthy should encourage these routine breaks. We’ll have more information about “deskercising” tips in a future blog.

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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