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Sitting is the New Smoking

As you read this blog, I ask you to please consider standing up, then once you are out of your chair, please read the below.

How many of us “enjoy the benefits” of increased efficiency in the workplace by, for example, not even having to get out of our chair to print or copy a document? Now how many of us also know that our bodies benefit from movement and that we should get up at least once every 30 minutes to an hour – but still aren’t doing it? If the previous two sentences describe you and the majority of your workforce, I encourage you to take action – literally!

“Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.” James Levine, MD, PhD.

On average, we sit 7.7 hours per day, with many of us sitting up to 15 hours per day - the vast majority of our waking hours. But “sitting is the new smoking,” and we all need to consider the health benefits of replacing the majority of our sitting hours with standing hours. Standing increases energy, burns extra calories (see NEAT, below), tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow, and speeds up metabolism. Getting out of your chair is at least as important as regular exercise (the Mayo Clinic recommends 150 hours of aerobic activity per week) - and there is a difference between not exercising enough and sitting too much. Said another way, exercising more, but not altering your sitting habits, does not solve the problem because sitting decreases the benefits of exercise.

As we contemplate replacing some of our sitting hours with standing hours, it’s an opportune time to introduce NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Those of us sitting in front of our computer monitors all day burn only 300 NEAT calories per day versus a cashier who stands all day and burns 1,300 NEAT calories.

Here are some options for employers and employees who are physically able to change their habits:

  1. Start with Baby Steps: Don’t let more than an hour (max) pass without getting up. An easy way to accomplish this, while keeping your traditional desk, is to stand up and pace in your office while you’re on the phone. Now you’re not just standing, but also moving!

  2. Progress to a Standing Desk: Convert your traditional desk to a standing workstation (basically a glorified raised shelf), giving you the option to sit or stand, fluctuating between the two throughout the day. Statistically, expect to replace at least 25% of your sitting time with standing time. The result: decreased fatigue with increased problem solving capabilities. But like anything new, it takes time to adjust. Try standing for a short period every day, gradually increasing to longer intervals over the course of a few months. Remember that, on average, it takes 66 days to make a new behavior a habit, with the range being between 18 to 254 days depending upon the individual and the behavior involved. Beyond a standing desk, the next step in the progression is a treadmill desk, though this is not for everyone and takes up a great deal of space.

  3. Walk & Talk Meetings: While this may be too progressive for some traditional workplaces, Steve Jobs (the late co-founder of Apple) was known for his walking meetings, and so you might consider conducting your own staff meetings while on the go. Instead of meeting in the conference room (sitting in conference room chairs), take your meeting outdoors when the weather permits. Perhaps you can walk around your building while discussing business matters. An additional benefit of walking: improved analytical skills and creative thinking (source: Marily Oppezzo & Daniel Schwartz, Stanford).

  4. Monitor your Monitor: Whether you are sitting or standing, remember the importance of ergonomics: your monitor should be directly in front of you (not to the left or right) and the top of your computer screen should be level with your eyes (you should be looking down no more than 10% degrees when viewing your screen). Does your neck and back feel stiff, tight, and achy? Consider repositioning your monitor and straightening your posture.

Likely you’ve heard this all before. If you actually did stand up while reading this blog, you’ve already started changing your habits! Keep it up!

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