Woman sitting at a desk and stretching

Sedentary careers are deadly

Elizabeth Bromstein|

It’s been said before and they’re saying it again: stand up. Get off your butt. Sitting all day is killing you. Even if you exercise, too much sedentary time is still taking a serious toll on your health.

A new study from Northwestern University and the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases of the National Institutes of Health has found that spending too much time on your butt is linked to major disability after age 60. In fact, for those over age 60, each extra hour a day spend not moving presents a 50 per cent increased risk of disability.

The study authors note that “A sedentary lifestyle is associated with a variety of poor health outcomes, including increased incidence for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality.”

This is not the first time in recent years that the dangers of sitting have made the news.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, a 2012 survey of over 200,000 adults found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 15 per cent greater risk of dying within three years than those who sat for fewer than four hours a day. Those who sat for 11 hours or more had an even higher risk of early death. And a 2010 study found that men who sat for six or more hours a day had an almost 20 per cent higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less in the 14-year follow-up period. The death rate of women who sat for more than six hours a day was nearly 40 percent higher. Also, you might remember this infographic, which was circulating a few years ago.

All of these risks stood even if the subjects exercised.

Lead author of the current study, Dorothy Dunlop, said, “Being sedentary is not just a synonym for inadequate physical activity.”

That’s not to say you don’t need to exercise, which obviously has its own benefits. This is just another standalone problem.

Dr. James Levine, an American obesity expert and endocrinologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic once told me in an interview, “The human being was designed to be an in-motion entity, and over the last 200 years humans have been squished into the chair.”

And what happens when you squish yourself into a chair for too long, according to Travis Saunders, an exercise physiologist and obesity researcher, is the enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which sucks fat out of your blood and helps you take it up into your muscles, shuts down.
“The amount of fat in the blood goes up, and good cholesterol goes down. And the glucose transport protein that takes sugar out of your blood shuts off if you’re not using your muscles. This all happens quickly, after just a few hours of sitting.”

Got it? That’s the reality. Now, the question becomes what you can do about it.

Levine said, “Our most frequently adopted recommendation is for walking meetings.” Get everyone up and moving around.

Another benefit? “The University of Toronto found that walking meetings are generally ten minutes shorter than regular ones.”

A great idea, to be sure, but also one that seems unlikely to be implemented in most companies. Realistically, combating your own sedentary work situation is more likely to be a solo operation.

Levine said, “People make standing desks from cardboard boxes; it takes minimal ingenuity. I bought a $250 second-hand treadmill, a $50 shelving unit, took out the bottom two shelves and had a walking desk. This burns calories, increases your attention level and helps avoid the afternoon dip. We’re not recommending you do everything walking: the body is also meant to rest.”

I use the cardboard box trick at home. In the office I work standing up in the kitchen sometimes.

Other tips to break up the day of sitting:

    -Get up once every hour or so and walk around the office.
    -Get up every hour and do squats.
    -Make a point of going outside at lunch and taking a walk.
    -Even better, take an exercise class or go to the gym at lunch (easier said than done for a lot of people, I know)
    -Take the stairs instead of the elevator. A Harvard study found that men who average at least eight flights a day have a 33% lower mortality rate than men who are sedentary.


The point is to break up the monotony of sitting. No matter what you do, just get up and get moving. You can even stand during meetings, even if no one else is doing so. Sure, you might feel awkward, but maybe you’ll live longer.


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  • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

    With companies demanding more work be done with less staff, expect to see workers continue to have health problems from the result of sitting too much. If employers see their staff doing a lot of walking around and stretching, they will assume the staff are not doing their job or do not have enough work to keep them occupied.