Is your desk job slowly killing you?
Did you know that the more hours a day you sit, even if you exercise, the greater your risk is for an early death? That’s right: even a perfectly sculpted six-pack can’t protect you from the dangers of your chair. Let’s say, for example, you work 60 hours a week at a desk job, but still squeeze in five 45-minute bouts of exercise. Some people would consider you to be active. But Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., a physiologist and professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, would still classify you as sedentary.
Hamilton says that the amount of time you spend sitting and the amount of time you dedicate to exercise are completely separate factors for heart-disease risk, and a growing body of research supports his take. In fact, new evidence shows that the more hours a day you sit, the greater your chances of dying an earlier death, regardless of how fit you are or how much you exercise.
A chair/couch-potato lifestyle can actually ruin you from head to toe. Sitting too much does not only put your heart at risk, but you’re more likely to get diabetes and your hips, spine, and shoulders could suffer as well. A desk job versus a standing job also leads to a weight gain of approximately 16 pounds in 8 months due to a decrease in amount of calories being burned. The Journal of Applied Physiology conducted a study in 2010, where they limited the number of footsteps of healthy men by 85% for 2 weeks. These men experienced a 17% decrease in insulin sensitivity, raising their risk for diabetes.
Statistics actually show that we are working out just as much as we were 30 years ago, but the amount of time people spend sitting rose by 8%. So people are living more sedentary lives now than they were in the 1980’s.
There have been many advances in medicine to keep people alive longer, but this doesn’t mean we are healthier! The death rate today is about 43% lower than it was in 1960, but back then only 13% were obese and less than 1% had diabetes. Now, 6% of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes and 35% are obese.
Sitting has proved to be an independent risk factor for heart disease. Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., Hamilton’s colleague at Pennington, the nation’s leading obesity research center, performed a study in 2009 on 17,000 men and women and found that the people who sat for almost the entire day were 54% more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who sat for almost none of the time. That may come as no surprise, except that it didn’t matter how often the individuals exercised, how much they weighed, or if they smoked or not. This is very strong evidence that sitting is associated with heart disease.
So what’s a desk jockey to do? Get off your duff as much as you possibly can. Stand while you’re talking on the phone. Build or have a desk built for you that’s taller, so you can stand while working on the computer. There’s certainly ways to work around sitting in an office chair day in and day out; you just have to take the initiative to make the change.