One survey shows that 86% of American workers sit all day for their jobs and this puts them at risk for the workplace “Sitting Disease.” If added to the time spent sitting after work surfing the Internet, playing games, or watching television, an individual spends approximately 13 hours a sitting each day.
The term “Sitting Disease” is a phrase coined by the medical community to refer to the effects that sitting has on the human body, metabolically and physiologically, as well as the negative implications that an overly sedentary lifestyle exposes workers too. While the sitting disease may not be diagnosable yet, the health of workers who sit the majority of the day without balancing out with physical activity could be in jeopardy.
The human body is designed for movement and one should alternate between standing, sitting and other activities such as walking. Workers who spend long periods of time in a seated position are more prone to an array of health problems. With the number of employees who perform their tasks seated at a desk, medical experts are concerned about the adverse health effects of sitting.
The Dangers of Prolonged Sitting
Medical research shows that sedentary behavior is more damaging than lack of vigorous exercise, smoking, and poor diet. Those who sit for long periods of time are at higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, and even death. Workers who have held their sedentary roles for at least 10 years have twice the risk of premature death and colon cancer. Prolonged sitting is shown to slow down metabolism, affecting the manner in which the body controls the breakdown of fat, blood pressure, and sugar levels. This can be linked to a cluster of conditions that make up metabolic syndrome, including abnormal cholesterol levels and excess body fat around the waist.
The longer people sit, the shorter their lifespan. This also applies to those who participate in regular exercise outside of their inactive periods. Prolonged stretches of immobility may also induce the development of musculoskeletal disorders. Since body movement is significantly reduced, muscles are more likely to strain, cramp, or pull when stretched suddenly. The back and neck muscles also become fatigued due to the reduced blood supply.
Prolonged sitting also puts tension on the spine, which causes a progressive compression on spinal discs. This can contribute to their premature degeneration. Sitting disease can also be linked to decreased function when it comes to respiration, circulation, and posture. There are also mental issues including loss of focus, higher stress levels, increased fatigue, and lower productivity.
Fighting the Sitting Disease at Work
While the sitting disease and sedentary lifestyle can cause life-threatening conditions, there are a lot of things that can be done to counteract the negative implications on the health of workers. Before individuals think of resigning in favor of their health, they should consider getting information about how they can reduce the risk of health problems that can be caused by sitting. The key is becoming more active. Spending thirty minutes or an hour a day exercising doesn’t completely remove the negative impacts of sitting. Such an individual is still considered high risk if he or she spends more than 8, 9, or 10 hours a day sitting.
Medical studies show that simply focusing on moving throughout the day can play a major role in reversing the adverse effects of prolonged sitting and improving overall health. Workers should aim for more exercise on the days they’re sitting for prolonged periods. Walking, swimming, biking, and hiking are great forms of exercise that counter the effects of sitting. Short breaks can easily blend into a typical work day and workers should aim to get moving as much as they can during the breaks. For instance, one can answer phone calls either walking around or standing. Taking a lap around the office, walking to a coworker’s desk or the water cooler can all make a huge difference.
Workers can also try to improvise with a standing desk or a high table. The might also position the work surface above a treadmill so they can be in motion throughout the day. Sitting on a stability ball can also make sitting a more active event by engaging the muscles. Incorporating active transportation such as biking or walking to work can increase activity time. And if one can’t get around without his or her car, parking farther from the door and walking from there is another way to get moving.
Employers can help address this issue by promoting and supporting standing or walking in team meetings, providing height adjustable desks, locating printer and photocopiers away from desks, and supplying cordless headsets that allow call handlers to move around.