Dr Eugene Brink
One of the hallmarks of the 21st century is being fettered to a desk in an office for a large part of the day.
One would assume that because people are having to do less physical work, this would have some salubrious effects on their health. Technology has indeed improved our lives in countless ways, but it has had some downsides too – especially for office workers.
It has made us more atomised (and thus disconnected in a way) and presented new health challenges. In 2015, it was reported that people spend 60% of their waking hours sitting down and this increases to 75% for people who work in an office.
“The modern world and the constant pursuit of technological growth have almost eliminated the need for movement in our daily lives. While commuting we sit in our cars or on the bus; at work we sit at our computers or in meetings; during our leisure time we sit watching TV, playing computer games or socialising with friends,” says Dr Sophie O’Connell, a project manager and research associate at the Leicester Diabetes Centre in the UK.
Sitting for long hours has a manifold of health effects. Greg Okhifun, associate editor at Corporate Wellness Magazine, says sitting disease is akin to the new smoking in the workplace, and it may be slowly harming your health while you earn a living. He points out that this has an adverse impact on breathing, blood circulation, posture and increases the risk of several diseases. This, in turn, could lead to chronic joint and back pain.
“Research has demonstrated that you could be twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and be at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases if you sit for long periods. These relationships have been found to exist independent of weight and physical activity levels,” O’Connell says.
An overabundance of sitting impairs the breakdown of fats and sugars in the body. “The consequent imbalance between energy intake and expenditure leads to an unhealthy weight gain and obesity. Obesity, in turn, raises the risk of several deadly non-communicable diseases, including metabolic syndrome and heart disease,” says Okhifun.
He adds that physical inactivity has also been linked to certain types of cancer, including the lungs, colon, and endometrium. “A review published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reveals that too much sitting may raise the risk of colon cancer by 24 percent, the risk of lung cancer by 21 percent, and the risk of endometrial cancer by 24 percent.”
These are by no means the only deleterious ramifications of sitting for your health, but they are all serious – especially in the long-run.
Our jobs and workplaces are unlikely to evolve back to making us more active – on the contrary. Therefore, we need to be smart about striking a healthier balance ourselves.
First, change how you sit. “Move while you sit. A number of innovative seats help to redefine workplace design by promoting motion seating. Swopper (ergonomic) chairs allow for rocking, bouncing, and perching while also helping to maintain a good posture,” Okhifun says.
“After every hour of sitting, take a walk around the office or just walk outside to get some fresh air. You can also take short exercise breaks at intervals. Stand-ups, squats, arm-rolls, and push-ups are a few exercises you could try at your desk.”
Walk or cycle any journey that is less than a kilometre. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Emphatically, use the summer months to walk around as much as possible. If your workday doesn’t allow for much walking, you would have to invest in it after hours.
“For those who aren’t very active, set yourself small targets and break up exercise routines into smaller, more manageable segments. You can easily fit in 3 x 10-minute walking routines in a day, which can be scheduled in around your work and family commitments. Being more active will automatically promote a feel-good factor, and over time, it will feel natural to boost your activity level,” says Forest Holidays Ranger, Gerry O’Brien.
Greg Okhifun, 2020, “Sitting Disease: Too Much Sitting at Your Office Desk is The New Smoking”, https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/sitting-disease-too-much-sitting-at-your-office-desk-is-the-new-smoking.
Open Access Government, 14 August 2019, “Office workers spend 75% of their waking hours sitting down”, https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/office-workers-sitting-down/71612/.
Sophie O’Connell, 7 June 2019, “Standing up to sedentary working”, https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/standing-up-to-sedentary-working/.