Sitting down all day for work just might kill you. It's something researchers have known for decades, but only in the past few years have large-scale studies come out to shed more light on the problem.
The groundbreaking study that started it all was published by The Lancet in 1953. Jerry Morris and colleagues studied London Transport Authority bus drivers. The bus conductors spent their days standing and climbing up and down the stairs of the double-decker buses while collecting tickets. The bus drivers spent their shifts sitting.
Researchers found that the active conductors had about a third the rate of coronary heart disease events than the seated bus drivers. The pay, benefits, work environment and other socioeconomic conditions were the same. The difference was activity.
The findings kicked off a number of studies that showed clear heart benefits from more active jobs. But jobs that involved physical labor were in decline. As society became more automated, machines replaced people and the remaining jobs needed little physical exertion.
In the 1970s, the solution was to promote exercise as a way to counter the effects of a sedentary job. Sit all day at work, just grab an hour of exercise before or after. Studies into the effects of active versus passive jobs dropped. But deaths from heart disease continued to climb.
Since 2009, several large-scale studies have come out that re-examined the relationship between how active someone is at work and long-term mortality. What they found is that even among people who regularly exercise, death rates are higher if your job has you sitting all day. In fact, heart attack rates climb for jobs that have you sitting as little as three hours a day.
In 2012, a study was published from van der Ploeg HP of the Sydney School of Public Health. Researchers tracked 222,497 Australian adults for four years. They found that 6.9 percent of all deaths over that period could be directly attributed to nothing more than sitting. The longer you sat every day, the greater your chances of dying early.
Researchers at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta came to the same conclusion after following more than 120,000 adults over a 14-year period. The greatest risk of death was for people who sat more than six hours a day, but there were still significant increases for anyone sitting down for as little as 3 hours.
The most startling part of these studies was that the association between sitting time and increased mortality wasn't linked to leisure time physical activity levels or weight. Even people who were the appropriate weight and who had active leisure times still had an increased risk of death if they sat all day at work. You've got to get out of that chair. Here are some ways to do it.
Start by standing up. Instead of sitting, raise your desk up so you stand at it. Replace your chair with a tall stool. When you need to relax, you can sit without lowering the desk. Just like any activity, you should start gradually. Try standing for 10 minutes every couple of hours. Slowly increase the amount of time you're standing each week until you're standing at least half the time.
If you have a job that keeps you on the phone, get a portable model. Whenever you make a call, get up and walk around. Two minutes walking for every 20 minutes of sitting can work wonders. Grab a drink of water while you're up and around.
The ultimate option is a standing desk with a treadmill attached. Studies don't go much beyond a year, but people who use them tend to drop a few pounds, significantly increase their daily activity levels and don't see a change in work performance. Long-term studies haven't been done yet, but it's certainly better than sitting on your butt and waiting for a heart attack. Get up and move!
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