Did you know that 80% of American jobs are sedentary or require very little activity! Jobs requiring moderate physical activity, which accounted for 50 percent of the labor market in 1960, have plummeted to just 20 percent. The hazards of sitting all day long–whether you’re staring at a computer screen at work or watching TV on the couch at home–are better understood now than ever. In recent years, researchers have linked too much sitting to back pain, repetitive stress injuries, obesity, and even an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
So, the next question is: What’s a desk jockey to do? For most people, quitting your job to become an exercise instructor simply isn’t an option, but there are several key steps that can be taken to ensure better health practices at the workplace. For example, to improve your workspace ergonomics you can trade your desk chair for an exercise ball or convince your employer of your need for a treadmill desk (yes, they are real).
But ultimately, the first step is simply to get moving. It can do your body good to get up and stretch your arms and legs for 5 minutes an hour (although more activity, of course, is better).
“As long as you have a way to get your body into multiple positions throughout your workday, that’s really the solution that you should be looking for,” says Katy Bowman, an expert on biomechanics and the director of the Restorative Exercise Institute, in Ventura, Calif. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Why is sitting so bad?
Studies suggest that hours on end of sitting can be harmful, regardless of someone’s total caloric intake or physical activity. This is most likely due to the fact that immobile muscles gradually lose their ability to metabolize sugars and fats as effectively as they should, which leads to high cholesterol and an increase risk for diabetes.
In addition, poor workplace habits can bring on aches, pains, and other troubles that in some situations can be disabling. Sitting all day has been proven to cause the curve of the lower back to flatten out, for instance, and can put a strain on the upper body, arms, and shoulders.
How to prevent the harmful effects of sitting.
Good posture is important for avoiding stress and strain at work, according to Dr. Julie Côté, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology and physical education at McGill University, in Montreal.
Côté, who studies workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders, recommends exercise programs like Pilates and the Alexander Technique, which focuses on coordination and range of motion. These programs can help build body awareness and better posture, Côté says.
Exercising outside the workplace can help keep you in shape, but you shouldn’t rely solely on an after-hours workout to save you. “If you’re sitting eight to 12 hours a day and you’re taking a one-hour yoga class, it’s not enough,” says Bowman. She recommends increasing your movement by taking several breaks throughout the day–even for just 10 to 15 minutes at a time–to stretch and walk.
Workstation adjustments may include: Sit-stand stools that allow people to sit or lean, balance balls, chairs with seats angled forward (and a support below so you don’t go sliding off) can also hold the lower back in a healthier curve, or a treadmill desk (as mentioned previously).
Our bodies are built to move and naturally want to move, so the more you move the better off you and your body will be!