June 13, 2012
Sitting all day doesn't just make us fat, it can kill us
Sure, you sit at work most of the day. But you also exercise regularly, right?
So naturally, you're not in any real danger from camping out at that desk. Right?
New research shows that being sedentary for eight or nine hours a day puts us at higher risk for dying from cardiac and metabolic diseases, even if we work out.
It's no wonder that sitting serves as a behavioral risk factor for obesity and chronic disease: Fewer than 1 in 5 jobs involve physical exertion (walking to the vending machine notwithstanding).
A doctor at the University of Sydney, along with her Norwegian colleagues, explored the connection between "occupational sitting," body mass index (BMI) and mortality.
After adjusting for BMI and other factors including exercise levels, general health and smoking status, they found that sedentary work was associated with higher mortality and disease compared with occupations that involved walking, lifting or physical labor.
Sitting all day apparently causes changes in our muscles, which leads to the buildup of fat in our bloodstream and organs.
It seems pretty logical: Occupations that involve some level of physical activity help workers stay healthier. In some cases, they might help someone stay alive.
But what to do? Quit your office job and become a mail carrier? (I always fantasized about that job, actually. I thought if I was a mail carrier I would really be in fantastic shape. I'd have to wear those blue shorts, though, so ... that's just not going to happen.)
I have a bad back, so really any hard physical labor would be out of the question. Sadly, most of the jobs I -- and lots of others -- are trained to do seem to require sitting in front of a screen much of the time.
There are, however, some simple ways to lower our odds of cardiac or other diseases at sedentary jobs.
In her new book, The First 20 Minutes, New York Times Phys Ed columnist Gretchen Reynolds recommends standing for two minutes every 20 minutes during the workday. She says that this tactic alone decreases a person's chances of getting diabetes.
Taking a quick walk around the office, Reynolds advises, will help a person lessen the chance of heart disease and lose weight.
An easy tip from the book is to stand up every time you answer the phone. If you don't get many phone calls, you can alter this concept to fit your work style; for example, you might stand up every time you respond to an email, or set a timer to go off every 20 minutes as a reminder.
Other ways to improve your health odds (and maybe reduce stress and feel better) if your job tethers you to a desk:
• Use a stability ball instead of, or in addition to, your regular office chair. These balls encourage you to utilize your core muscles and can also take the pressure off the lower back.
• Take a short walk during a break or at lunchtime.
• Get up once an hour to get a drink of water (two benefits in one).
• Take on or over a new task that requires you to get up and leave your desk temporarily.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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