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Sedentary Work: More Dangerous Than Most Would Expect

Sedentary workers are often viewed as the “safer” employees in a given organization; sitting at a desk all day typing and answering telephones, after all, must be one of the safest jobs there is, right?

Actually, according to a number of studies that have been published in recent years, the above statement is incorrect. Experts recommend approximately 30 minutes of activity per day for the human body to remain healthy, and a sedentary lifestyle can actually act as a counter to activity for full-time employees.

In a study headed by Steven Blair, an Epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, researchers found that long periods of sitting or lying down were a significant factor in the onset of heart disease, and eventually death.

Blair found that men who engaged in sedentary activity for more than 23 hours each week faced a 64 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease than those who reported less than 11 hours.

“Let’s say you do 30 minutes of walking five days a week, and let’s say you sleep for eight hours,” said Blair. “Well, that still leaves 15.5 hours.”

Blair also gives notice to the fact that most Americans do have occupations that require them to remain sedentary for a majority of the day. Add up the eight hours a day at the office, a sitting lunch break, time spent in the car commuting, and watching TV at home after work, and “it’s a lot more sitting than moving,” says Blair.

“Exercise after work makes up for it, right?”

Since such a lifestyle often leads to poor physical fitness and unhealthy habits, many American workers try to combat the risk by increasing their physical activity outside of the office. Logic might tell us that adding exercise after work should counter the lack of exercise we get during the day.

But according to Blair, the remaining 15.5 hours left in our regular days are typically spent engaging in more sedentary activities. This significantly reduces the potential positive effects that 30 minutes of activity can have on a person’s health.

“If you’re sitting, your muscles are not contracting, perhaps except to type,” explains Blair. “But the big muscles, like in your legs and back, are sitting there pretty quietly.”

In addition to the lack of activity and contractions in the muscles of the body, a sedentary lifestyle at work brings other negative results with it. According to Blair, this lifestyle can directly impact a person’s metabolism.

”We’re finding that people who sit more have less desirable levels,” Blair said in regards to cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides and waist size of the subjects in the study.

What can be done?

Pointing out all of the negative results of a sedentary lifestyle may be educational for some. But in the society we live in today, where sitting at a desk for eight hours each day is relatively common, how can Americans combat a trend that appears to have no solution?

“We just aren’t really structured to be sitting for such long periods of time,” says Dr. Toni Yancey, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “When we do that, our body just kind of goes into shutdown.”

While the responsibility of encouraging employees to lead healthier lives lies with the employer, people can still take proactive steps to improve their health, even if it is just a little at a time.

Here are some tips for incorporating small amounts of exercise into your sedentary workplace:

  • Replace your chair with an exercise ball
  • Walk to speak with your co-workers instead of sending an email
  • When printing something, choose the printer furthest away from your desk

Do you have any other suggestions for increasing physical activity in the workplace? Let us know in the comment box below.

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