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Your Desk Job is Out to Kill You

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FW:  Jan. 31, 2014

“Sitting is the new smoking.” That’s the line going around the Internet.

It sounds silly, but it doesn’t matter whether you sit all day at work or come home and sit around all evening …  it turns out that research shows sitting for most of your day is rough on your health.

The High Cost of Being Sedentary

First, scientists research something they call “recreational” sitting. That’s the kind of sitting your do at home, when you’re relaxing on the couch watching your favorite TV show, playing your favorite video game, or reading a book.

People who spent four hours sitting in the evening showed a 50 percent increase in the chance of dying versus those who sat for just two hours in the evening.

That kind of statistic always sounds ridiculous to me – we all die, right?

What researchers usually mean when they say this kind of thing is the risk of dying within a certain time frame. So, in this case, to keep things simple, let’s say they studied a group of two hundred people for five years. Half of that group spent an average of two hours sitting around in the evenings and the other half spent four. At the end of the study, they found that for every two people that died in the “two hour” group three people died in the “four hour” group.

That’s a 50% higher death rate for the “four hour” group. The study design was more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea. Not only did the people who spent more time sitting increase their immediate risk of dying, they also more than doubled their risk of developing heart disease. Not good.

In another study, researchers linked sitting with cancer risks. They found that thousands of cases of breast cancer and colon cancer can be attributed to a lack of physical activity in general, and more specifically to prolonged sitting. It’s not just at-home sitting that needs to concern you. Desk jobs are bad, too. Anything that forces you to sit for a long period of time is shaving years off your life and putting you at higher risk of deadly diseases.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You spend time at the gym three or four times a week, so you’re counteracting all that sitting, right?

That’s not quite how it works. It turns out that blocks of exercise don’t undo the damage done by long blocks of sitting.

So what can you do?

Saving Your Health From Your Desk Job

It hardly seems fair. The government and every medical organization under the sun has been promising that if you are active for just 60 minutes a day, then you are set. You’ll be physically fit. You don’t need to worry about heart disease or diabetes or cancer.

Surprise! It turns out they were wrong. Again.

Sitting too much is bad for you no matter how often you hit the gym. Long periods of inactivity slow your circulation and suppress compounds your body needs for healthy blood chemistry. Combat death-by-sitting by moving around more often, and break up the time you spend sitting with short bursts of activity. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do that.

Change positions often: If you work at home, instead of sitting at your desk all day, spend some of your day working while standing. You’ll need a standing desk for this – a good investment. If you’re extra dedicated, consider converting a treadmill into a treadmill desk, and do some of your less computer-intensive tasks while walking.

If you work in an office, these might not be an option, but you can still get creative. Instead of sit-down meetings, schedule walking meetings, especially for those smaller meetings that involve only a handful of people. You can also research what it would take to convert your desk to one that works as both a sitting and standing desk.

Set a timer: In one study researchers found that just the act of standing up once every hour improved cardiovascular health more than dedicating 15 minutes each day to walking on a treadmill. For the best results, aim to stand up every 15 minutes throughout the day. Stretch, jump up and down a few times, or do a couple squats. You don’t have to leave your desk or even disrupt your train of thought. In the long run this simple step will actually make you more productive by making you more alert and energetic. Adding in more motion to your workday will help your body to process fats and sugars the way it’s supposed to. It will improve your circulation, too. And when all that happens, you’ll find it easier to lose weight and you’ll cut your risk of heart disease and an early death. Not too bad for a free and simple solution!

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