The vast majority of us spend hours at a desk in front of a computer every day. Even after the workday is complete, many of us go on to sit more while in a car, bus, or the subway and then again at the dinner table, and in front of the television. Even if we take time out of our busy day to engage in physical activity such as walking, biking, running or weight training, the proportion of this time is minimal compared to the hours and hours of sitting we log.
Research studies indicate that too much time spent sitting and being sedentary can lead to very negative health outcomes including increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, not to mention the higher rates of obesity, depression and hypertension.
There are many reasons for the negative health consequences related to prolonged sitting. The most clear and straightforward relationship is that sitting burns fewer calories than standing or walking. This is because sitting is quite passive especially if you are sitting with poor posture. Your muscles don't need to do much to hold you up and you expend very little energy because you are being supported by a chair. While standing, your leg muscles, core muscles and back muscles have to work harder in order to hold you erect against gravity. Fewer calories burned can lead to obesity which can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
There are other metabolic effects that occur at the cellular level that can also explain the harmful consequences of sitting all day. From an evolutionary perspective, we are meant to be moving creatures and our muscles and muscle cells have been built and specifically designed to manage higher levels of activity than modern man typically engages in these days. It has been shown that muscle cells that are idle do not react to insulin (a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy) as easily and thus the pancreas has to produce more and more of the insulin hormone for the same response (also known as insulin resistance). Long-term changes in blood insulin levels can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. In addition, excess insulin in the blood encourages cell growth, which can explain the rapid cell growth of cancerous cells. It is also believed that the expression of certain genes that work to suppress inflammation are decreased in sedentary individuals. This can explain many conditions that are related to inflammation such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Obviously this is some serious stuff so here are some ideas to get you moving more throughout the day:
1. Walk part way or all the way to work! If you drive, park further away. In some cases parking further away is cheaper but regardless you are forced to walk before you start your work day as well as at the end of the day on your way home. If you take the subway or bus, get off a stop or two earlier and walk the rest of the way. If you live close by, think about riding your bike or walking to work.
2. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Consider taking the stairs up to your office at the beginning of the day, at lunch and at the end of the day. Stair climbing adds resistance to your legs and forces your leg and core muscle to work even harder than walking alone. It can also help to increase your heart rate. You will notice that this task becomes easier and easier as you do it more because your muscles will become stronger and your cardiovascular system will become more efficient.
3. Drink lots of water throughout the day by always keeping a bottle of water on your desk. Water can help to cleanse your body of toxins and keep your cells hydrated. In addition, you will need to use the restroom more often and this will force you to get up from your desk more often.
4. Go for a walk at lunch. Force yourself to take a break at lunch and incorporate movement during this break. Do not go directly from your desk to the lunch-room or cafeteria only to sit more. Eat quickly and then spend the rest of your lunch break walking outdoors. This will help clear your mind, get your blood flowing, increase your metabolism and prepare you for the rest of your day at work. You will notice that your work productivity will actually increase if you make the time to do this.
5. Stand up at work whenever possible. There are standing desks available and many other opportunities to stand up while you are on the phone or when you are brainstorming ideas. Consider walking over to a fellow colleague's desk instead of just sending them an email or calling them. The ideas are endless if you actually consider all the times at work that you can actually stand up and move around.